ACLU urges Obama to try 9/11 suspects in civilian court

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] released a full-page advertisement [image] in the New York Times on Sunday, imploring President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to try suspected 9/11 [JURIST news archive] terrorists in federal courts. The ad, which features a series of pictures that morph Obama's picture to one of former president George W. Bush, extols the virtues of the US criminal justice system and outlines the fact that the vast majority of suspected terrorists have been tried in non-military courts. The ACLU also sent a letter [text, PDF] to Obama on Sunday, conveying a similar message to that in the advertisement. In the letter, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero discussed many of the problems associated with military tribunals:


Most of the attention on the legal problems with the military commissions has focused on the looser evidentiary statute, particularly the admissibility of coerced evidence and hearsay evidence that would be barred from every federal or state criminal trial or court martial in the United States, but there are also fundamental constitutional questions that could jeopardize the use of military commissions and could result in the reversal of any conviction. I believe these challenges are significant enough that the risk of such challenges succeeding should alone be sufficient reason to reject military commissions, particularly for defendants alleged to have had a role in the September 11 attacks.

With the venue for these trials in limbo, it is unclear when the trials of many linked to the 9/11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [JURIST news archive] will begin.

It was reported on Friday that White House advisers are considering recommending [JURIST report] that Mohammed be tried in a military court rather than through the civilian criminal justice system. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November that Mohammed would be tried in a civilian court [JURIST report] in Manhattan, drawing intense criticism. Last month, Holder defended his decision [JURIST report] to charge suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [JURIST news archive], the so-called Christmas Day bomber, in US federal court. Holder, who has resisted calls from high-level Republicans [AP Report] to try Abdulmutallab in front of a military tribunal, said that the civilian criminal justice system was capable of handling his trial.

 

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