US defends civil trial for Osama bin Laden's son-in-law
Washington: The Obama Administration has defended its decision to go in for trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and a former spokesman for al Qaeda, in a civil court in New York instead of those in Guantanamo Bay.
The White House Deputy Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters here on Friday that there is a broad consensus among various wings of the administration that this is the best way to handle the case of Ghaith, who was arrested and brought to the US on Thursday.
He was produced before a New York court yesterday wherein he pleaded not guilty. He is charged with participating in al Qaeda conspiracies to kill Americans, which carries a maximum term of life in prison.
"There is broad consensus across the US government at the Department of Defence, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security. The intelligence community agrees that the best way to protect our national security interests is to prosecute Abu Ghaith in an Article III court," he said.
"There is a pretty good strong track record of the success of Article III courts in handling these kinds of trials. Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, was tried in an Article III court. He's currently serving a life sentence. Abdulmutallab, also known as the underwear bomber faces a similar fate," Earnest said.
"It is the Article III courts which have shown that they are in many ways more efficient to deal with those who seek to harm the United States of America. And that it is the consensus view of the President's national security team and of agencies all across the federal government that this is the best way to handle bringing Abu Ghaith to justice," the White House spokesman said.
Noting that these kinds of cases will be handled on a case-by-case basis, he said as Obama has articulated himself many times, it's his view that whenever the US can use Article III courts to get justice, they will do so.
"They have proved to be a very useful tool in getting that justice. And that's why and how the decision was made in this case," he said.
Human rights organisations welcomed such a decision of the Obama Administration. "Some people may feel on a gut level that terrorism suspects should be treated differently somehow, but it's long been clear that federal courts are the best and fairest places to try them," said Laura Pitter, counter-terrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch.
The military commissions in Guantanamo have been proven unable to deliver real justice, he said
"The Obama administration's decision to try Abu Ghaith in federal court shows it doesn't buy into its own war paradigm. Guantanamo and the military commissions exist because of politics, not because they represent the best way to prosecute terrorism suspects," Pitter argued.
Congratulating the national security professionals for bringing another senior al-Qaeda figure to justice for his acts of terrorism, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein support the Obama Administration's decision to bring this prosecution in civilian court.
Feinstein expected that the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York will successfully prosecute Abu Ghaith and put him away for the rest of his life.
"The bottom line is the federal criminal court system works. Hundreds of international terrorists have been convicted in our federal courts since 9/11 and are locked away in heavily fortified federal prisons.
"Some of the most infamous terrorists - 'Blind Sheik' Omar Abdel Rahman, the '20th Hijacker' Zacarias Moussaoui and 'Shoe Bomber' Richard Reid - are serving life sentences after being tried in federal criminal courts. Additionally, the criminal justice system has a strong and consistent record of gaining intelligence from terrorist suspects," Feinstein said.
However, several Republicans opposed such a move.
"Rather than issuing doomsday predictions about sequestration, the President should be notifying Congress that he's planning a US civilian court trial for a terrorist who took credit for 9/11 and is on video threatening to blow up more US buildings and planes," alleged Senator John Cornyn.
"The President may not like it, but the fact remains?Gitmo is still up and running. And as long as it is, it's the only place where we should be detaining America's most dangerous enemy combatants period," he said.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded the decision to prosecute Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in an Article III Federal Court.
"Federal prosecutors have had tremendous success in convicting al-Qaeda terrorists, and I believe that they will be successful in this case as well," he said.
"In contrast, it is not clear whether a conspiracy case against Abu Ghaith could even be sustained in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Sending another detainee to Guantanamo would have been a serious mistake, and it is clear to me that President Obama and his national security team made the right choice," Leahy said.
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, too expressed concern over treating Abu Ghaith as ordinary criminal.
"While I am pleased that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith has been captured and is facing long-overdue justice, I am concerned that once again the Obama administration is treating terrorists like ordinary criminals," he said.
"Certainly, an individual of Abu Ghaith's stature who was captured overseas belongs at Guantanamo Bay where we can continue to gather intelligence and he can be tried in a military tribunal, rather than being immediately indicted in federal court," Chambliss said.