US courts can’t be terrorized by injustice
There is a schism on the recent case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an alleged al-Qaida accomplice and former Guantanamo detainee, who was charged for his role in the suicide bombings in 1998 at a US embassy in Africa.
The bombings resulted in the deaths of 224 people. A New York federal jury hasn’t yet sentenced Ghailani, who could receive 20 years to life in prison. A Manhattan jury acquitted him on more than 280 charges including murder.
This verdict is cited as clear evidence that civilian courts, and furthermore, the Obama administration’s strategy, lack the ability and efficiency to properly handle terrorism prosecutions, reinforcing the understandable fear that in the future, juries will produce lenient sentences or acquit the defendant altogether.
After the conviction, those who argued for the incapability of civilian courts were quick to denounce President Barack Obama’s strategy, and call this case a travesty and miscarriage of justice, even though this is not yet true. Justice is not synonymous with death. There is no doubt that the government will seek a sentence of life without parole for Ghailani, as assured by Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.
It is often forgotten that Congress never officially declared war on al-Qaida, making Bush’s “War on Terrorism” spoken, not declared. As a result, the rule of law is our greatest, if not only, weapon. US District Judge Lewis Kapal who presides over the case has been heavily criticized for refusing a key government witness to testify after discovering that the information had been produced through torture. The information which might have led to the murder convictions, but Kapal was correct in doing so.
Any confession obtained from a subject under duress and/or through torturous methods is unacceptable in any court of law. By relying on that information for convictions, we risk becoming no better than the Soviet Union, which used similar methods for their show trials where there was little opportunity for defendants to defend themselves. American courts are not a place where the guilt of the defendant is decided before they walk inside the courtroom. If anything, the jury and judge Kapal should be commended instead of condemned.
No matter how horrendous or reprehensible the actions of any person, foreign or domestic, we cannot throw out our Constitution to fit the whim of public opinion — or to simply get our way. To say otherwise is claiming no faith in the justice system and the rights provided by our Constitution.
Marcus Smith is an English freshman and may be reached at [email protected].