Patricia A. O'Malley

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Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting    ~    Community Matters
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Established 1993

Accused Terrorists Should be Tried as Civilians
Unless You Don’t Trust Our Constitution
November 17, 2009


The Obama administration’s decision to try ten accused terrorists in New York City civilian courts is absolutely the best course of action.  US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the government’s plan  on Friday, November 13.  The men have been held at the US Naval Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for several years, mostly without attorneys or any other legal rights.  

The Constitution
Our Bill of Rights was adopted on December 15, 1791.  It has not been repealed.  The sixth amendment says
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.

These words apply to all criminal prosecutions.  The Bill of Rights  does not apply only to American citizens.  It does not apply only to nice people.  It applies to every single person under our jurisdiction.  For many Americans, the facts that the accused are dark-skinned, their names sound funny to us, someone said they did it, and used the word “terrorism”, is enough to convict them.  Aren’t we better than that? 

While discussing whether the US should torture prisoners, John McCain said, “It’s not about what kind of people they are.  It’s about what kind of people we are.”  If these men were responsible, then why are Republicans so afraid to prove it in court?

Contrary to public belief, the Bill of Rights does not guarantee a trial by jury of one’s peers.  It guarantees a trial by an impartial jury.  Yes, I know what happened on September 11 and at the USS Cole.  And yes, I know that the buildings collapsed.  Of course, I know that nearly 3,000 people died.  And yes, I believe that the people responsible should face severe consequences.  But I do not know whether these people were responsible.  And neither do you. 

I do know that the people tried, convicted, and punished for these crimes should be the real terrorists, and not just a bunch of guys who were handy.  Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to believe in?  And yes, if I had lost a loved one that day, you bet I would want them tried in New York.  Let them stand and face their accusers.  

Military Commissions Courts
The Constitution gives Congress the power to establish any lower-level courts that it deems necessary.  That includes military courts under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.  The MCA specifically contradicted the fifth and sixth amendments.  However, in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution does apply to Guantanamo and all of the prisoners there. 

 The Obama administration is reforming the commission structure and procedures and will try at least some of the other prisoners through the military system because the rules of evidence and procedure are less strict.  And the countless violations of the prisoners’ rights by cheneybush will not be held against the government.  Otherwise, they would have no choice but to release the prisoners without trial at all.

I oppose military commissions generally, but I do understand that the administration doesn’t have any good options. 

And we can thank cheneybush for that.

I’m not asking you to take my word for it.  The American Civil Liberties Union has been defending the Constitution since 1920.  Their constitutional scholars say so.   Human Rights Watch has been following this issue from the beginning.  

Their constitutional scholars agree.  

The rest is a smokescreen.  This is just another example of the Republican obstruction and distraction campaign.  Once again, Republicans are incapable of being honest.  Despite their whining and posturing, their disruptions, obstructions, and tea bags, Republicans clearly do not want to honor our constitution.  If they believe in it so much, then why don’t they trust it?  Are they so busy worshipping their flag that they forget their allegiance “to the republic for which it stands”?  If cheneybush believe that military commissions are the best route to prosecute the accused, then why didn’t they do it while they had the chance?  Once again, If you want peace, work for justice.

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