President Obama’s decision to bring terror suspect, and Ben Laden relative, Sulaiman Abu Gaith, to the U.S. to stand trial has rekindled the debate about the wisdom, and safety, of trying terrorists in civilian courts.
But, the idea may not be as novel and rare as some Americans choose to believe. Actually, America has already successfully tried a number of terror suspects in civilian courts with no adverse consequences.
In 2010 Faisal Shahzad parked his bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of Times Square and tried to detonate the crude device with a cell phone. However, the propane, gasoline, and fireworks concoction fizzled, but the resulting smoke did manage to frighten a lot of New Yorkers. Shahzad was sentenced in civilian court to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
On Christmas day, 2009, Abdulmutallab – Better known as the “Underwear Bomber” – tried to detonate explosives carried in his underwear while traveling on Northwest flight 253. Fortunately, the device failed to detonate. However, the device did start a small fire, which was put out by an alert flight attendant. Abdulmutallab was later tried and convicted in civilian court. He received a life sentence.
On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid, the infamous shoe bomber, also tried to blow up an airliner. Reid carried the explosives hidden in his shoes, but, as with the others, the device malfunctioned. Reid pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. The case was adjudicated in a civilian court.
On April 19, 1995, Tim McVeigh parked a moving van loaded with fertilizer and fuel oil in front of the Alfred P. Murrah building. Unlike the others, however, the powerful device did detonate, destroying the Murrah building, and taking the lives of 168 innocent men, women, and children. McVeigh was tried and convicted in civilian court and, after waiving further appeals, was executed by lethal injection June 10, 2001.
So, as you can see, terror suspects have already been successfully tried and convicted in civilian courts, both before and after 9/11. In fact, it is almost common place. So why do some politicians find the idea of trying another one so objectionable?
Whatever the reason, I certainly hope our elected officials aren’t making distinctions between one terrorist and another.
Abcnews.go.com: Underwear bomber Abdulmutallab: “Proud to kill in the name of God.”
Nbcnews.com: Times Square bomber gets life sentence
Nytimes.com: Unrepentant shoe bomber sentenced to life
Findadeath.com: Timothy McVeigh