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How Civilized, Law-Abiding Countries Imprison Terrorists

While the U.S. continues to debate whether it must imprison accused terrorists without charges or trial -- and now even refuses to say whether it will release those who are given trials but then acquitted -- numerous other countries are, with their actions, adhering to the values and principles which we, with words, righteously claim to embody:

From The Associated Press today:

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- A Turkish appeals court has upheld a verdict sentencing six al-Qaida militants to life in prison for the deadly 2003 bombings in Istanbul.

The court in Ankara says Wednesday it has approved the life sentence for the six of the 74 suspects for their involvement in the attacks on Nov. 15 and Nov. 20, 2003. Those bombings killed 58 people and targeted two synagogues, the British consulate and a London-based bank. . . .

The court has sentenced 33 other suspects to between three years and nine months in prison to 18 years. It acquitted 15 of them, citing lack of evidence, while ordering a retrial for the rest, requesting further investigation.

From The New York Times yesterday:

BERLIN - The defendants in Germany's largest terrorism case in a generation announced in a Düsseldorf courtroom on Tuesday that they were ready to confess to plotting a series of deadly bombings.


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The trial was expected to last two years and had been billed as the biggest terrorism case since leaders of the far-left Red Army Faction were prosecuted in the 1970s. . . .

German authorities arrested three of the suspects in September 2007 with 26 military detonators and 12 drums of hydrogen peroxide, more explosive material than was used in the 2004 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid.

German security officials said the suspects had visited terrorist training camps in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. They are accused of being members of the Islamic Jihad Union, a radical group based in Central Asia with roots in Uzbekistan. The four men are accused of planning attacks against a list of targets, including the airport in Frankfurt and Ramstein Air Base, an American installation in Germany.

Numerous countries that aren't the U.S. -- including those targeted by Terrorist threats at least as serious as those faced by the U.S. -- have routinely and repeatedly given what are called "trials" and "due process" to those it accuses not merely of harboring terrorist wishes, but also actually having carried out atrocious terrorist attacks.  During the Bush era, even the U.S. -- when we were moved to do so -- successfully did the same.

Giving real trials to people whom the state wants to imprison -- even accused Terrorists -- is what civilized, law-respecting countries do, by definition.  By contrast, lawless and tyrannical states -- also by definition -- invent theories and warped justifications for indefinite detention with no trials.  Before the U.S. starts talking again about "re-claiming" its so-called leadership role in the world, it probably should work first on catching up to the multiple countries far ahead of it when it comes to the most basic precepts of Western justice -- beginning with what ought to be the most uncontroversial proposition that it will first give due process and trials to those it wants to imprison.  Shouldn't the claim that the U.S. cannot and need not try Terrorist suspects be rather unconvincing when numerous other countries from various parts of the world -- including those previously devastated by and currently targeted with terrorist attacks -- have been doing exactly that quite successfully?

UPDATE:  The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar has a good summary of yesterday's Senate hearing on Obama's proposed policy of indefinite, preventive detention.  The hearing was shaped by an odd (though quite revealing) spectacle:   the most vigorous defenders of Obama's proposal were a far right GOP Senator  (Tom Coburn) and two of the most right-wing, Bush/Cheney-loyal lawyers in the country (former Reagan DOJ official David Rivkin and Ken Starr acolyte Richard Klinger).  Meanwhile, Obama's proposal was vigorously criticized by the two Democratic Senators in attendence (Russ Feingold and Benjamin Cardin), along with the civil libertian and human rights advocates who testified and a former Bush DOJ federal prosectuor, David Laufman, who detailed the ongoing success the U.S. has had in prosecuting accused terrorists in real courts ("[E]xperience has shown that terrorism prosecutions in Article III courts work. . . . Congress should reject any proposal to establish a legal regime authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial").

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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