Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Criminal Trial the Right Choice

Joe LIEberman and other Republican fear mongers just like him are ranting on that the Crotch Bomber should not have a civilian trial.  In a decision timed perfectly to demonstrate just how foolishly these Republicans are acting, a US Appeals Court proved that civilian courts can manage trials for terrorists.

moussaoui A US appeals court upheld the conviction and life sentence of Zacarias Moussaoui for complicity in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected claims by US lawyers for Moussaoui -- the only person charged in the United States in the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives -- that his guilty plea and sentences on six criminal conspiracy counts were invalid.

It also struck down their efforts to refer the case back to a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where he pleaded guilty in 2005 of conspiracy in the suicide hijackings of passenger planes that crashed into New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

"We affirm Moussaoui's convictions and sentences in their entirety and deny his motion to remand," the three-judge panel said in its ruling.

The court decision took place amid intense debate over whether terror suspects should be tried in civilian US courts or in specially designed military tribunals known as military commissions.

Republicans and some of President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats have blasted his administration's decision to try a Nigerian accused of trying to bring down a US-bound jetliner on Christmas Day.

Lawmakers also have pushed back against the White House's plans to transfer five accused 9/11 plotters -- including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- from the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to New York for trial in US federal court.

Moussaoui's attorneys had asked that their client's sentence and conviction be remanded because his constitutional rights were violated and the government had failed to provide classified evidence that could have been used for his defense.

But Justice Department lawyers argued that the judge presiding over the trial ensured that Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan descent, understood his rights.

"Moussaoui claims that the district court failed to inform him of the nature of the charges and ensure that he understood them," the appeals court said in its 78-page opinion. "We disagree."

After dodging the death penalty during a months-long trial in the Alexandria court, Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison. The court of appeals upheld that sentence.

"We find it significant that Moussaoui never sought to rescind the admissions he had just made, nor to withdraw his guilty plea during the nearly year-long period that elapsed between his plea and the conclusion of the sentencing proceeding," the appeals court judges wrote.

Moussaoui, who later recanted his testimony only to claim he was part of another Al-Qaeda plot, is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement at a supermaximum security prison in Colorado…

Inserted from <Alternet>

We seem to have no difficulty imprisoning him here either.

The GOP idiocy on this issue keeps ramping up.  here’s Rachel Maddow.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Mojoski said...

Here is an interesting post over at Hot Air about how we just dodged a bullet with this ruling. I wouldn't be so smug about it. If this moron hadn't been stupid enough to plead guilty the whole case would have just likely collapsed. Did you even read the ruling?

Moussaoui conviction upheld, but …

Make sure you click through and read Andy McCarthy's analysis if you really want to understand the legal precedent this sets. Do you think KSM will be stupid enough to plead guilty? Of course not..

TomCat said...

Welcome Mojoski. I can't say I hold your sources in high esteem, but I am not enough of a legal scholar to confirm or refute McCarthy's sophisms. However, if you think KSM would ever be released into this country, I suggest you think again.

Mojoski said...

Thanks for the kind welcome, TomCat.

Personally, I think Andy McCarthy's experience as a federal prosecutor in the 1993 Trade Center Bombing trials speaks for itself, so I won't bother trying to defend him. He needs no defense from the likes of me.

As for whether or not KSM would ever be "released into this country", I'm not sure of the value of that straw man. I don't believe anyone ever said that.

But I believe that even you must admit that if his charges end up getting dropped because we can't divulge all of the information that his lawyers request, or if his conviction is overturned on appeal because we wouldn't divulge all that his lawyers requested, that certainly wouldn be a black eye for the US justice system. What do we do with him then if that happens? Ship him back to military control, obviously, and end up looking like a bunch of chumps.

I think Andy raises some important questions that need to be thought through carefully. I'm not here to say that I believe 100% that the Obama Administration's approach is completely wrong, but I think posts like yours tend to gloss over some very real and important legal concerns that are not always thought through completely when deciding that this is definitely the best approach. Go read Andy's full assessment of the ruling and what it really says.

I believe that the bottom line is that if Moussaoui had not plead guilty against the advice of his own lawyer, there is a very good chance that his conviction would have just gotten overturned, based on my own reading of pages 24-28 of the ruling. The judges state quite clearly that his basis for appeal is very sound, had he not already plead guilty, and that should scare us all.

The full ruling is linked from the NRO piece and I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

If my interpretation is correct, and I think it is based on what the judges said in their own ruling, then this ruling might actually point us in a direction away from trying terrorists in civilian courts, instead of towards that conclusion as your post implies.

I only ask that you read the ruling carefully yourself with these issues in mind and see what you think.

Thanks for providing an open forum for discussing such an important issue facing our country.


Lisa G. said...

The problem with trying terrorists in criminal cases without a guilty plea really comes down to this: will the Federal Government release enough information to convict this person based on the evidence? In Moussaoui's case, we had the guilty plea, so that was really a no brainer. But, without the guilty plea and under the Bush Admin, would they have released the documentation without claiming National Security like they did with everything else? I doubt it. If Obama's Admin (i.e., Justice Dept.) is willing to release the documentation to prove this guy's guilt, then try him in civilian court. And this 'enemy combatant' BS won't hold up in any US court.

Same with the Gitmo prisoners - and they've been tortured, so any admissions they've made can't be used against them. "Enemy combatants" doesn't prove they were part of any established military unit, so that puts out a military tribunal. That leaves a civilian trial in the US or the International Court at the Hague, which we won't subject ourselves to so how can we send our 'enemy combatants' over there? This is a quandary.

This needs to be decided by a world body (like the UN) to decide what we do with these people. Israel does the same thing - do you think any Palestinian is going to get a fair trial in an Israeli court?

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV.

Mojoski said...

Well, here is something that Lisa said that I agree with. She said that the big question here is, "will the Federal Government release enough information to convict this person based on the evidence?"

I would agree that this is the central question and I would add the following questions as well:

Will the information that they release to get a criminal conviction be damaging to our national interests?

Will the government have to divulge information concerning the methods that our intelligence services rely on to gather information on or enemies abroad in order to obtain a conviction?

Will they have to divulge the names of undercover operatives who provided info about the accused suspects and disclose how they infiltrated their organizations?

Will they have to somehow compromise our intelligence gathering efforts in order to provide all the information that the defendant's lawyers ask for concerning how evidence against the accused was gathered?

What happens if they refuse to provide that information because they believe it could endanger our intelligence operatives or our national security?

Will that refusal to provide that information lead to an eventual dismissal of charges or an overturned conviction on appeal, like it almost just did in this case?

These are all important questions, and we need to think carefully about them all. They have BIG potential implications for us as a nation.

Now a few things I disagree with you on, Lisa. You said, "In Moussaoui's case, we had the guilty plea, so that was really a no brainer."

Honestly, this shows you don't know much about this case in particular. His guilty plea was actually entered in the middle of the trial, not at the beginning, and his lawyers used some government refusals to share information before that guilty plea was entered as the basis for the appeal that just failed.

All indications from the judges' ruling, which is linked above if you want to read it, show that the judges felt these reasons for appeal would have had merit and might have even been reason enough for the appeal to succeed, if the defendant hadn't already plead guilty!

So you see, it wasn't really a "no brainer" at all, Lisa.

Mojoski said...

If the Obama Administration releases everything that KSM's lawyers will likely request, then national security interest will likely be harmed, so the Justice Department will have to walk a fine line in the KSM trial of attempting to release enough information to get a conviction and avoid a successful appeal, without releasing too much information that could harm the nation and our intelligence gathering processes.

This is not a simple cut and dry question, as you imply, regardless of who is in the White House and who is running the Justice Department.

You then said, "And this 'enemy combatant' BS won't hold up in any US court."

The status of "enemy combatant" has nothing to do with a US court. It is a mechanism for identifying a person who does not fall under the jurisdiction of the US court system to begin with, so I'm not even sure what you're talking about here.

The fact is that our history as a nation is full of instances where military tribunals are used to try non-uniformed combatants and so is the history of just about every other modern nation. In fact, at most points in history, these type of combatants were just shot on the spot. Our military tribunal system, which was sanctioned by our Congress I will remind you all, was made for just this purpose, so I don't where you're trying to go here, Lisa. I think you need to study up on some of the legal issues at hand because some of your statements here display a lack of understanding of the basic issues of laws that are in question, both at the national and international levels.

The idea that we should be turning over these terrorists to the UN or the International Criminal Court has no merit at all, in my opinion. The last thing we need is some international show trial where these Islamist nutcases get to spread their lies and propaganda on the world stage. That would only encourage every other jihadist out there to attack us even quicker so that they can get their 15 minutes of fame for Allah as well.

otis said...

Really? Is there so little faith in the justice system, and in our Intelligence Departments? The answer is a resounding "YES", apparently from some.

Part of intelligence work is, or at least should be, gathering EVIDENCE as well as information. Evidence would be something that can be used in a court, be it US OR international, that supports allegations of wrongdoing. Information is just that, information. Information does not have to be correct (See Second Persian Gulf War), it simply is. Information needs to be verified, analyzed, and then appropriately shared. Seeing we seem be having problems in all 3 of these areas, I can understand a lack of faith.

Now, our judical system. So, you don't think that we can get a conviction with all the loopholes that have been put into place for money launders, mobsters, politicians, and bank CEOs so that they don't even have to appear in front of Congress, much less actually go to trial? I am shocked.

Here is the sad truth: We need this test. The Intelligence groups need to get their act together, and we need to give these, and all other criminals against the US, foreign or domestic, the same rule of law. This is what makes us better than other countries.

My problem is that there is no such thing as a fair trial in the US for any of these people. The prosecution can walk into the courtroom, point to the defendant and say, "This is a terrorist, just like the ones that did 9/11." and rest his case. Hell, he may even only have to say, "He's Muslim." and be done with the way things are distorted around here.

Do you know why the case of Moussaoui was thrown out of court? No judge wanted to be responsible for potentially referring him back into the trial system. Regardless of the evidence, they made a rule of law from the bench: DO NOT HEAR POTENTIAL TERRORIST APPEALS. And I will bet you most of the ones from this wave will be long dead before a single appeal is heard. We will probably be in wave 3 or 4 of becoming Isreal Jr. before anything gets done about appeals.

So, I don't know what anyone is worried about with terrorist trials. The odds that they are even going to get something other than a Kangaroo Court trial is really slim to none in this country. Hey, our currency is close to worthless, why should our judicial system be any different? Right? Banana Republic, not just a clothing line, a way of life...

Mojoski said...
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Mojoski said...

And for the record, Otis, you statement that "Part of intelligence work is, or at least should be, gathering EVIDENCE as well as information" is completely false.

In case you didn't know this, there is a reason why we have both a CIA and an FBI. Intelligence Gathering and the Crimes Prosecution are two very different things. Anyone in the Justice Department knows this..

Mojoski said...
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TomCat said...

Mojoski, there is only one rule at this blog, that we treat each other with respect. I deleted the comments in which you patronized Otis, calling him rambling and incoherent, saying he has a warped sense of reality, and in addition implying that the people here are a left wing echo chamber. This is your only warning. If you cannot hold a civil conversation, go elsewhere. I do intend to read the underlying document as you requested, but I will do so when I have the time. I spend about four hours per day researching for articles, more writing them. In addition, the early part of this month is filled with doctor appointments setting up my health care after finally winning an SSDI appeal after three years. Furthermore, I volunteer helping prisoners and former prisoners. Today is a volunteer day. In other words, you are not the only thing on my to do list. Please be patient. In the meantime, show respect or get lost!

TomCat said...

Evedryone else, thanks for your patience. I'll be back. :-)

Mojoski said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TomCat said...

Mojoski found himself unable to follow the rule of treating others who comment here with respect. Any further comments from him will be deleted.

Mojoski said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TomCat said...

Lisa, I agree with the potential problems left over from the Bush/GOP methods of interrogation. Since the Justice department is deciding which to try where, I presume they are willing to release sufficient evidence to convict those slated for civilian courts.

Otis, as I see it, your argument is essentially sound. I apologize if Mojoski's more inflammatory comments offended you before I got to and deleted them.

For the record, I did review the underlying document as Mojoski had requested, and he was correct that the guilty plea was the entire basis for upholding the conviction. Where he and McCarthy were incorrect, in my opinion, was the assumption that no other basis existed. Watching CSPAN over the years, I have heard a recurrent theme from legal experts, representing both left and right wing points of view, that appellate courts tend to base their decisions on the least controversial basis for that decision. The guilty plea made it unnecessary for the judges to consider what might have been more controversial arguments.

Finally, Mojoski claimed that since I commonly am disrespectful to public figures like Bush and Cheney, that he was justified in less disrespect for commenters here. Had he been disrespectful to public figures that I like, I would have disagreed, but would have acknowledged his right to state his opinion. But the rule here has nothing to do with public figures. It is displayed in the header of this blog:

All points of view are welcome, but personal attacks against me or anyone who comments here are forbidden. Trading insults never changes anyone's mind.

Mojoski said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.