THE BLOG
01/28/2015 05:40 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Senators Question Federal Court Terror Trials While Effective Prosecutions Continue Apace in NYC

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

As Republicans questioned U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch at her confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday for supporting trials of suspected terrorists in federal court, the trial of alleged al-Qaeda leader Khalid al-Fawwaz proceeded apace in New York City, with an FBI informant providing critical evidence linking the defendant to the al-Qaeda conspiracy.

Khalid al-Fawwaz is on trial after his extradition from the United Kingdom on charges of conspiring with al-Qaeda to kill Americans and bomb the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, among other things. Relatives of victims of the Tanzania bombing have been sitting in the courtroom watching. What they're seeing is yet another skillful prosecution brought by seasoned U.S. prosecutors who have amassed a wealth of evidence about al-Qaeda and its members over the years, both from the FBI's thorough overseas investigations and from previous al-Qaeda trials and informants.

On Wednesday, former al-Qaeda member L'Houssaine Kerchtou, now in the U.S. witness protection program, testified that he knew al-Fawwaz as the leader of an al-Qaeda training camp, as a senior al-Qaeda cell member in Kenya, and identified him as No. 9 on a list of alleged al-Qaeda leaders retrieved by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. This is all key evidence: If the jury finds Kerchtou credible and believes al-Fawwaz conspired with al-Qaeda in this way, he'll be convicted and will likely face life in prison -- the sentence most other former al-Qaeda members implicated in the 1998 bombings and convicted in federal court are serving now.

Given how smoothly this and the other trials have gone in downtown Manhattan, and the absence of any disruption in New York or elsewhere because of them, it's hard to believe some senators are still complaining about these cases, claiming the government should instead send them to military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, due in large part to those complaints, the five alleged September 11 co-conspirators remain stuck in lengthy pretrial hearings at Guantanamo. More than 13 years after the attacks and despite more than a decade in U.S. custody, they are still nowhere near being brought to justice.

Since 9/11, nearly 500 individuals have been prosecuted on terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts. Only eight have been prosecuted in the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. Three of those convictions have been overturned.