Opinion Brief

The Ghailani verdict: Trying terrorists in civilian court vs. military

The mixed verdict for the first former Guantanamo detainee prosecuted in a federal court reignites the debate over how to try accused terrorists

The debate over how to prosecute terrorism suspects erupted anew last week, after a civilian jury acquitted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani of all but one of 285 charges relating to the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. Ghailani was the first former Guantanamo detainee to be tried in federal court. The judge ruled that testimony from a key witness was inadmissible, as investigators learned of his existence during an interrogation when Ghailani claims he was tortured. But there was enough evidence to convict Ghailani of conspiracy to blow up buildings — worth a minimum 20-year prison sentence. Is this a victory or defeat for the Obama administration's strategy of trying terror suspects in civilian rather than military courts? (Watch a BBC report about the verdict)

Ghailani is going to prison. What's the problem? Take a look at what actually happened here, says David A. Graham at Newsweek. "The U.S. government successfully prosecuted a major terror suspect" in a civilian court. The only reason he wasn't convicted of more charges was the Bush Administration's "constitutionally questionable" methods of extracting information. Ghailani's going away for 20 years to life. What more do you want?"Ahmed Ghailani and the Justice Department's communication breakdown"

We must never let off a confessed terrorist again: "The critics had it right all along," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. This process was "designed for domestic criminals," not "wartime enemies." If the Obama administration had tried Ghailani under a military commission — as Congress hoped it would — then this confessed terrorist would be locked away forever. Instead, the U.S. will "eventually release a man who attacked two of its embassies abroad" — what a disgrace. "Time for Holder to go"

A military commission would have delivered the same verdict: Saying that a military commission would have allowed that key witness to be heard is "simply untrue," says Glenn Greenwald at Salon. Military tribunals "bar the use of torture-obtained evidence to roughly the same extent as real courts do." Attorney General Eric Holder made the right decision to pursue this through the courts, and "anyone who believes in the rule of law and the Constitution" should agree."The Ghailani verdict and American justice"

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