(Editor’s note: Former Monterey Park Mayor, Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives in high profile legal cases and events.) Are war criminals committing heinous crimes against humanity during wartime entitled to civilian court trials? Are avowed terrorists who explode bombs on commercial planes or in crowded areas to kill innocent people entitled to civilian court trials? The answer to both questions should be a resounding, “No”.
After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, war crimes tribunals were formed to try those most responsible for the heinous crimes against humanity committed by Nazi military forces in the occupied countries. War crimes trials began on November 19, 1945, in Nuremberg, Germany and resulted in fair and swift trials, convictions, and executions of those most responsible for the murder of millions of innocents.
Similar military trials were held in Japan in 1945 where numerous high ranking military officials were tried, convicted and hanged for their war crimes as well.
The horrifying images of babies torn from their mothers’ arms (rape of Nanking), tossed into the air and caught on Japanese soldiers’ bayonets was just as heinous as corralling hordes of innocent men, women and children into gas chambers to carry out Hitler’s “ultimate solution” for the mass murder of people.
Trying and convicting war criminals in military courts during and after wars is universally recognized and accepted as just, proper and legal. But why shouldn’t terrorists who have declared war on and murdered innocent American people also be tried before military commission?
After the 9/11 bombers brought down the World Trade Center in New York, then President George W. Bush declared a war on terror and Congress passed the Patriot Act in support of the measures adopted to execute that war.
So, why don’t we treat terrorists who try to blow up commercial airliners or explode bombs in crowded areas (such as Times Square) as war criminals subject to military court trials? There can be no doubt that we are at war, albeit more of a stealth war than a battlefield war, but a war nonetheless where innocent people are callously killed.
Unfortunately, President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, have decided that such terrorists should be tried in a New York federal civilian court, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center and the death of 3000 people.
As a result of that decision, alleged Al Qaeda conspirator Ahmed Ghailani was recently acquitted (November 17th) of all major terrorism charges in the bombing of American embassies in Africa in 1998 resulting in the death of 224 people including 12 Americans.
He was convicted on a single charge of conspiracy to damage U.S. property, an outrageous finding since he was part of a murder conspiracy that took the lives of 224 people.
The jury findings made in a civilian court to acquit Ghailani on all major charges (224 murder counts) only reinforces the view of the majority of Americans and Congress that terrorists should be tried as war criminals in military tribunals and not given the same rights and constitutional guarantees available to U.S. citizens in civilian courts.
The war on terror should be equated to a conventional war and those charged with committing heinous crimes against humanity should be treated as war criminals.
President Obama should reconsider his decision about the venue for the trials of terrorists who are sworn to kill Americans wherever, whenever, and however they can.
“This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of Obama’s decision to try Al Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts” said Representative Peter T. King (R-NY), calling the Ghailani trial “a total miscarriage of justice.”
Let’s contact our senators and congressmen to protest this miscarriage of justice and urge that terrorists get justice from military tribunals.