Ahmed Ghailani is a terrorist who killed 224 people. But the first Guantanamo inmate to be tried in a civilian court was found not guilty of those murders, the result of his blowing up American embassies in Africa in 1998. He was, though, convicted of conspiracy to destroy government property.
Some of the evidence against him was reportedly obtained by torturing informers, so the judge ruled it inadmissible.
That prosecutors were still able to pin the conspiracy charge–for destroying property, if not lives–is being hailed as a victory, since the penalty will be at least 20 years in prison, if not life. (Though that seems way too harsh for a crime against property.) And yet, don’t those lives that were taken cry out for justice, in a way that simply punishing the killer for something else doesn’t satisfy?
That Mr. Ghailani got off for the murder charges shows, to many people, that the civilian courts aren’t right for charging international terrorists, that instead they should be handled by the military commissions set up for this purpose. Then again, the military courts aren’t allowed to considered evidence obtained by torture either.
A factual question for you lawyers: Do American constitutional rights apply to non-citizens who committed a crime outside of this country? That is, are they universal in scope? If so, there would seem little alternative to excluding evidence from torture, and the blame should be placed not on the courts but on the torturers for making conviction possible.
Also, defenders of using civilian courts claim that we shouldn’t worry, that no terrorist will be allowed to go free, even if he is acquitted, since the government will hold them anyway. But that is surely would be an even greater violation of the legal system! If terrorists are found not-guilty or their cases thrown out on a technicality, they SHOULD be released, if a civilian trial has any meaning at all. If, for some reason, we aren’t going to release them no matter what the court does, it is meaningless to try them.
Does anyone have any suggestions as to how these cases should be handled?