Conyers: We Cannot Turn Our Back on Federal Prosecution of Terrorists
Washington, DC, April 5, 2011
Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) issued the following statement in response to the Attorney General’s announcement that the Department of Justice will refer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the 9-11 co-conspirators to the Defense Department for military commission prosecution:
Today the Attorney General announced that the alleged plotters of the September Eleventh attacks will be referred to the Defense Department for prosecution in military tribunals.
I regret this decision. Thousands of American civilians were killed that day on U.S. soil and in airplanes above our skies. Our federal courts are the strongest, most reliable venue for bringing justice to those who perpetrated these terrible acts. Military Commissions – even as improved in 2009 – are untested. They bring great legal risk. And they cause unnecessary friction with our allies around the world.
By contrast, our federal courts are time tested. They produce strong verdicts and stiff sentences that we know can withstand appeal, and which have earned respect around the world from friend and foe alike. We cannot turn our back on this essential tool in the fight against evil and terror, which is bigger than any five defendants.
That said, I do understand the position in which the Administration finds itself. For better or worse, Congress has made it impossible to bring these individuals to court for trial. This intrusion on prosecutorial judgment is shameful. And the political demagoguing on this issue, like many other questions of terrorism, has been an embarrassment to the Congress.
Like the Attorney General, I too am frustrated that almost a decade after 9/11, these alleged co-conspirators have not been held responsible. This is another tragic legacy of the Bush Administration’s failed approach to matters of national security. From the secret prisons in which KSM and others were held for years, to the flawed military commission system that the even the Rehnquist court was not willing to uphold, to the waterboarding and other tortures that have made prosecution especially difficult – our ability to win swift and sure justice in these cases has been needlessly strained
Our federal courts have a proven track record handling hundreds of complex terrorism cases over the years. It was a US federal court that imposed the death sentence on Timothy McVeigh for bombing the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. It was a federal court that in 2000 sentenced the Kenya and Tanzania Embassy bombers to prison for life without parole. It was a federal court that sent Omar Abdel-Rahman away for life for the first World Trade Center bombing. The Bush Administration itself recognized this, taking the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid to federal court and reporting in its final budget request to Congress that “Since 2001, [the Department of Justice] has increased its capacity to investigate terrorism and has identified, disrupted, and dismantled terrorist cells operating in the United States. These efforts have resulted in the securing of 319 convictions or guilty pleas in terrorism or terrorism-related cases arising from investigations conducted primarily after September 11, 2001.”
Military and law enforcement professionals also agree. For example: