BRING TERRORISTS TO TRIAL THE AMERICAN WAY
By Robert E. Hirshon, President
American Bar Association
The American Bar Association supports the Bush Administration’s call to bring to justice all terrorists, those individuals who have aided the terrorists, and those individuals who harbor them. Additionally the American Bar Association believes that terrorists tried in military tribunals should be brought to justice the American way.
At our recent Midyear Meeting in Philadelphia, the association’s House of Delegates voted without dissent to support the call of President Bush to bring to justice the perpetrators of global terrorism and those who harbor them or give them aid. We continue to stand firm in our resolve that all involved in the atrocities of September 11th be brought to justice.
But we need to do it in a way that respects core American values of due process and fundamental fairness – principles that have governed our justice system since its founding. To do any less would deprecate our Constitution and the memory of those who perished on and after the morning of September 11. Those principles that have defined the rule of law offer guidance in the context of military tribunals, a mechanism with which we have limited national experience and one over which both Congress and the Administration are laboring.
The ABA determined, and actions by Administration officials suggest they also have concluded, that military tribunals should be used only in limited circumstances, for trials of people accused of violating the law of war, who are not U.S. citizens or lawful residents.
The ABA also believes that military tribunals should not be used to try persons lawfully present in the United States. Only by judicious use of military tribunals can we demonstrate to the world that we adhere to the same standards we have demanded that other nations follow. In so doing, we maintain our credible right to insist on such protections for our own citizens facing trials in other parts of the world.
When military tribunals are used, they must accord minimum due process, a defining principal of our democracy that we extend to the most unpopular persons accused of the most despicable crimes. It is both our strength and our greatest weapon to protect and preserve our freedom and our democracy.
The legal principles the ABA espouses are very familiar to Americans. Those principles are that people should not be detained indefinitely without trial; that detainees are presumed innocent until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and that people who are accused have a right to confront their accusers and cross examine witnesses, and should not be forced to incriminate themselves. Additionally the American way assures an independent and impartial trier of fact, unanimous verdicts in capital cases, and a right to request appellate review. Our core principles reaffirm the right to representation by counsel of choice, prompt and understandable notice of the charges, adequate resources to prepare a defense, and proceedings that are open to the public and press, or trial observers with appropriate security clearance, as available, if security requires closed trials.
These principles have served our nation well. Equally as important, they have not interfered with the successful prosecution of terrorists in the past, including those charged with bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 and the terrorism of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
There were those who asked us to delay making this decision. But delay would have meant abdication. Under the ABA’s own Constitution, we meet to adopt policy only twice a year; our next opportunity to stand up for these crucial principles would not have been until next August. Our government’s leaders have given every indication that they intend to implement regulations governing trials before military tribunals in the very near future. Indeed last week two bills regarding military tribunals were filed in the Senate. We understood our government’s need to move quickly and thus we also moved quickly in order to assist those formulating the regulations.
The September terrorist attack was an attack on the core values of this country. Those who have died in this war on terrorism died in defense of American ideals. We owe their memories adherence to those sacred ideals which make our country great.
Editors: For verification, or to receive this via e-mail, contact Nancy Slonim, ABA Division for Media Relations and Communications Services, 312/988-6132. It is also available on the web at www.abanet.org/media/opeds.html.