U.S. Sen. David Vitter today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to reconsider the Justice Department's decision to prosecute international terrorists as criminals rather than enemy combatants, in light of the recent acquittal of al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ghailani on 284 of 285 charges stemming from his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
"Terrorists such as Ghailani are not Americans and they should not be treated as such and afforded the same rights guaranteed to us by our constitution," Vitter wrote. "As enemy combatants, they should be tried in military tribunals -- a specific legal proceeding that provides them with a similar set of rights afforded to criminal defendants but treats them as what they are: enemy soldiers who were captured on the field of battle."
The full text of the letter is below.
November 19, 2010
The Honorable Eric Holder
Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I am writing to urge you to reconsider the Justice Department's decision to treat international terrorists as criminals with constitutional rights rather than enemy combatants. In light of this week's verdict acquitting Ahmed Ghailani of 284 of the 285 counts against him, it is clear that this policy is dangerously misguided.
Al-Qaeda has been actively orchestrating attacks against Americans and our interests at home and abroad since the early 1990s, and through the assistance of terrorists like Ahmed Ghailani they have committed crimes of war that are appropriately tried in military tribunals, not criminal courts on U.S. soil.
More than ten years after the bombing of two U.S. embassies, jurors in New York City convicted Ghailani of conspiracy to blow up government buildings in the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks. As a detainee held in Guantanamo Bay, he was considered to be an enemy soldier, subject to the judgment of a military tribunal. I have long argued that the decision by the Obama administration to try terrorists in U.S. criminal courts is wrong on a number of levels. I believe the outcome of this trial proves that.
First, terrorists such as Ghailani are not Americans and they should not be treated as such and afforded the same rights guaranteed to us by our constitution. As enemy combatants, they should be tried in military tribunals -- a specific legal proceeding that provides them with a similar set of rights afforded to criminal defendants but treats them as what they are: enemy soldiers who were captured on the field of battle.
Second, the suspected terrorists and enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay represent a very real threat to our national security. The risk of transporting these dangerous individuals to the United States to be held in the custody of local law enforcement is simply too great.
Moving forward with any plans to try terrorists as criminals here in the United States is ill-advised as it puts our national security at risk and potentially endangers our relationships with our allies in the war on terror. Ahmed Ghailani and other detainees are terrorists and they should be treated as such. Military tribunals allow us to maximize security while abiding by our standards of justice.
The verdict in Ghailani's trial demonstrates the risk of trying terrorists in civilian courts. Despite your past assurance that "failure is not an option" in the prosecution of terrorists, this trial was hardly a resounding success. I hope the Administration heeds the lesson learned from this trial, and I urge you to return to the policy of trying terrorists in military commissions. This decision makes clear that international terrorists have no place in our courts or our country.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.