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Terrorism trials should be held in US federal courts: rights group

[JURIST] Terrorism suspects should be prosecuted in US federal courts [press release] instead of military commissions, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by Human Rights First [advocacy website]. The report, prepared by two former federal prosecutors, claims that the civilian court system is fully equipped to try terrorism cases and argues against the creation of a new security court system or indefinite detention of certain individuals. According to the report, there is a 91 percent conviction rate for terrorism suspects in federal courts:

In sum, the federal courts, while not perfect, are a fit and flexible resource that should be used along with other government resources — including military force, intelligence gathering, diplomatic efforts, and cultural and economic initiatives — as an important part of a multi-pronged counterterrorism strategy. In contrast, the creation of a brand-new court system or preventive detention scheme from scratch would be expensive, uncertain, and almost certainly controversial.

The report is a followup from a May 2008 report [text, PDF; JURIST report] that reached the same conclusion.

The issue of where to try terrorism suspects has recently become controversial in the wake of US President Barack Obama's executive order [text; JURIST report] to close the military prison facility at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Last month, the first Guantanamo detainee was transferred to the US to face trial [JURIST report] in a civilian court. In May, Obama announced [JURIST report] that he would revive the controversial military commissions system to try some Guantanamo detainees. The move drew criticism [JURIST report] from human rights groups, which called the plan "fatally flawed," continuing a long line of criticism of the commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions.

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