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Conservatives Terrified of Bringing Terrorists to Justice

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As the Obama administration develops a comprehensive strategy and architecture to bring terrorists to justice, conservatives continue to politicize and fearmonger this critical national security issue. Whether its inane assertions that terrorists will kidnap Mayor Bloomberg's daughter, that Democrats may actually want another terrorist attack because they want to create jobs or that Illinois will be ground zero for terrorist attacks and jihad recruitment, when it comes to combating terror, conservatives are simply unhinged. But while they demonize our judicial system, and lambast the ability of the men and women working in our prison system and law enforcement to keep our communities safe, they neglect the fact that trying terrorists in civilian courts -- and following the rule of law -- is one of our best strategies for combating extremism. It takes critical recruitment tools away from the terrorists and underscores the foundations of our democracy that separates America from its enemies.

The men and women of our military fight every day to defend our judicial system, the constitution and the bedrock principals of American power. And conservatives who insists on disparaging these institutions for political gain denigrate the very core of American society. As 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser said: "To be clear, the only danger posed by prosecuting men like KSM in an open court in New York is the red alert it poses to the Republican Party's faltering reputation in fighting their "war on terror."'

The Obama administration acknowledges the task of developing a comprehensive strategy to detain and try terrorists is not easy. That is one reason why they've admitted they won't reach the January deadline to close Guantanamo. But it is more important to get this policy right than to rush to some ad hoc and potentially confused conclusion. That was the approach of the Bush administration, which failed to both bring terrorists to justice and keep America safe. In the wake of these failures, the Obama administration is taking a careful and methodical approach to right these wrongs. This will roll back the recruitment tools the previous administration brought to our enemies while restoring the foundations of American democracy.

By implementing this strategy, the Obama administration will finally bring those who attacked us on 9/11 to justice and put into place a system that works within the rule of law and constitutional constraints. This critical course correction will not be easy, but Obama's constructive approach differs greatly with the counterproductive and politicized rhetoric conservatives continue to spew which in the end, works to undermine America's national security.

Conservative Myth: Obama administration's plans for imprisoning terrorist suspects in the U.S. makes us less safe. Over the weekend, Rep. David Manzullo (R - IL) and Senate candidate Mark Steven Kirk wrote, with fear-mongering rhetoric, that "[a]s home to America's tallest building, we should not invite Al Qaeda to make Illinois its No. 1 target."

Reality: The U.S. has a stellar record of safely keeping hardened terrorists behind bars. In 2007, 60 Minutes reported on the Supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado, which holds dozens of terrorists who were convicted in civilian court, including: Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th hijacker" in the September 11, 2001 attacks; Ramzi Yusef and Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted for masterminding the first World Trade Center attack; and Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber. According to the former warden there, "Most prisoners spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells, every minute, every meal."

Conservative Myth: Trials will be a propaganda vehicle for Al-Qaeda. "The suspects are going to "make it a circus and use it as a platform to push their ideology."

Reality: America's best legal traditions will "put Jihad on trial." Writing in the New York Times today, Council on Foreign Relations counterterrorism expert Steven Simon writes: "Historically, the public exposure of state-sponsored mass murder or terrorism through a transparent judicial process has strengthened the forces of good and undercut the extremists. The Nuremberg trials were a classic case. And nothing more effectively alerted the world to the danger of genocide than Israel's prosecution in 1961 of Adolf Eichmann, the bureaucrat who engineered the Holocaust."

Conservative Myth: Trying terrorists in federal courts gives them the advantage: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani criticized the plan to try 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, saying on CNN's State of the Union that "It gives an unnecessary advantage to the terrorists and why would you want to give an advantage to the terrorists, and it poses risks for New York."

Reality: Federal courts are one of America's best tools for bringing terrorists to justice. A 2009 report by Human Rights First written by a team of former federal prosecutors found that "of the 214 defendants whose cases were resolved as of June 2, 2009, 195 were convicted either by verdict or by a guilty plea. This is a conviction rate of 91.121%."

Conservative Myth: 9/11 terrorists tried in New York will be found not guilty. "The possibility that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators could be found 'not guilty' due to some legal technicality just blocks from Ground Zero should give every American pause."

Reality: New York City Courts have never acquitted anyone of terrorist charges. According to NYU's center on Law and Security, New York City courts have a zero acquittal rate for terrorism cases.