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Accused Perpetrators of 9/11 Scheduled to Face Trial Before a Military Commission

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. Mr. Speaker, no one in this body needs to be reminded that on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States suffered one of the most horrific acts of mass murder in the history of our country. The deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans thrust this nation into a fight against an unconventional, non-state enemy that embraces terror, violence, and human destruction in a purposeful attack on civilian populations. That fight continues today.

In March 2007, the alleged mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. He and four others have been charged with 169 overt acts in furtherance of the 9/11 attacks on innocent Americans, including 2,973 individual counts of murder in violation of the law of war and providing material support of terrorism. They are now scheduled to face trial at Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.

Despite the horrific nature of the crime that was perpetrated against our nation and our citizens, a foundation of the American justice system is the right of the accused to receive a fair trial no matter how abhorrent the action. While we have an obligation to use all of the instruments of our national power and authority to counter the threats of terrorists who maim and murder with utter impunity, we cannot allow our outrage and thirst for justice to trump this uniquely American rule of law. We must be guided, and when appropriate, constrained by our core values. This is essential to our effort, and to our legitimacy, in engaging and defeating enemies who traffic in fear and live in darkness. Our enemies continue to pose a serious, adaptive and asymmetric threat and our efforts to deter them must be equally zealous.

We must ensure that all of our efforts are relentlessly empirical and pragmatic, while demanding compliance with the rule of law. All instruments of our national power and authority must be used to oppose these modern asymmetric threats.
We must recognize that the instruments that are constrained and guided by our core values, including the rule of law, are the only truly effective and sustainable instruments. While the most effective instruments for countering these threats are those that are constrained and guided by our core values, including the rule of law, we must also, as Justice Jackson said at the Nuremburg Trials, ``stay the hand of vengeance'' and ensure that ``power [pays tribute] to reason.'' Our reformed military commission will ensure the steady hand of justice is applied with these alleged war criminals. Justice, after all, ``is the greatest interest of man on earth..... and so long as it is duly honored, there is a foundation for general security, general happiness and the improvement and progress of our (human) race.'' Daniel Webster, Sept. 12, 1845.

Reformed military commissions are fully integrated within our federal framework of criminal justice, are overseen by our Article III appellate courts, and are severely confined to their law of war jurisdiction. Reformed military commissions can and will deal effectively, independently, and fairly with the law of war violations referred to them for trial, and they are already featuring a specialized interagency legal practice within the law of armed conflict and counterterrorism.
Our military commissions are comparable to a civilian court, in that they have been modeled on the federal criminal justice system and incorporate all of the guarantees that are essential to a fair and just trial. To begin with, the accused is presumed innocent, and the prosecution has the burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is also protected against self-incrimination. Statements obtained through the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are not admissible, and before any statement of the accused may be admitted, a military judge must find it to be reliable, probative, and voluntary.

The simple fact is, the rights of the accused before a military commission are virtually identical to the rights of the accused in a federal court: the right to notice of the charges; the right to counsel and choice of counsel; the right to be present during the proceedings; the right to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and compel attendance of witnesses in his or her defense; the right to exculpatory evidence that the prosecution may have as to guilt, sentencing, and the credibility of adverse witnesses; the right to an impartial decision-maker; the right to suppression of evidence that is not reliable or probative or that will result in unfair prejudice; the right to not be deposed without his or her consent; and the right to appeal to a federal civilian court of appeals and, ultimately, to the United States Supreme Court.

While there may be differences between the military commission and the federal court venue, the divergence exists for principled reasons. It is grounded in necessity. It remains consistent with the rule of law. And it ensures that the commission has the ability to provide accountability during a time of armed conflict when no other adequate or effective means to do so exists.

Finally, let me say that the proceedings before military tribunals are transparent. In this regard, they also closely parallel federal practice. Prosecutors are committed to allowing family members of the victims, the media, and the public to access to the proceedings. This reflects the belief--not only within the commission structure, but among our citizenry as a whole--that there is great value in allowing Americans, and the world, to witness criminal trials and to see first-hand the fairness and impartiality with which our nation dispenses justice.

These cases of alleged terrorists and murderers will be handled fairly within the rule of law, persistently and consistently to their end. Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commission, recently indicated that he has foregone an opportunity for promotion to ensure consistent handling of these important matters to their conclusion. We have come to expect no less than this selfless and heroic act from this General. He is a lawyer of exceptional skill and a man of extraordinary principle. He not only understands the form of the law, but also its spirit. And he recognizes, as Dr. Martin Luther King once said, that denial of justice anywhere diminishes justice everywhere. There is no better person for this job than Gen. Martins, a Harvard classmate of our President, and I for one am grateful that he has agreed to remain in this position, and to see this trial through a full and fair hearing of the alleged heinous acts of war and terror on the American public.

Mr. Speaker, it is no secret, nor is it an overstatement, to say that we live in a dangerous world. My state of Mississippi knows this well with the proud service of thousands of our sons and daughters serving the military and the nearly 100 Mississippians who have given their lives in protection of our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should not allow our fears--or our outrage over acts designed to stoke those fears--however to guide our actions, even in these challenging and sometimes anxious times. Only fairness and justice can lead us to peace, and when the world thinks of fairness and justice, I want it to think of America. I have no doubt that when the accused perpetrators of 9/11 are brought to trial before a military commission, this country, and our system and values, will be considered in precisely that way.

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