There's been a lot of debate about the recent verdict in the Ahmed Ghailani case, including criticism that federal courts are not capable of prosecuting terrorists. Many of the nation's experts in criminal justice however have seen this decision as a victory.
Below is a statement by Richard Rossman, a former U.S. attorney reacting to the news--his thoughts are enlightening:
In January, a judge will sentence Ahmed Ghailani to a minimum of 20 years to a maximum of life in prison. At the end of the day, it doesn't make any practical difference that Ghailani was convicted of one count instead of hundreds. He is out of commission.
Nobody said sending Al Capone to jail for tax evasion instead of other crimes was a failure of the American justice system. Now as then, it's the job of prosecutors to stay focused on results.
Furthermore, the trial went smoothly despite the challenges of the case, which included the fact that the defendant had allegedly been tortured and held at Guantanamo for years. There was not a single security problem associated with the trial. And, most importantly, Americans can be proud of the process and the rest of the world can respect it because the trial happened according to the rules in a New York City courtroom.
The 9/11 defendants should similarly be brought to justice in federal court. Military commissions have repeatedly shown themselves not up to the task of handling terrorism cases. In fact, they have only convicted five terrorism suspects. Two of those convicted are already out of jail. The other option -- allowing KSM and his cohorts to languish without trial indefinitely - only keeps open the wound that is Guantanamo, undermining chances for cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies and turning hearts and minds against us.
Richard A. Rossman
United States Attorney, EDMI, 1980-81
Chief of Staff, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice 1998-99
Human Rights First has published research on federal courts' ability to try terrorism cases--read more and sign our petition to close Guantanamo.