by Valerie Lucznikowska
September 17th, 2008
An exhaustively researched report, “In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts” (May 2008) is available online at www.humanrightsfirst.org. The report was the subject of a panel discussion at the American Bar Assoc. on Monday, Sept. 8, titled “Prosecuting Terrorists: The Prosecutors’ Perspectives.”
The important conclusion reached is that our current federal court system of justice can and has done a good job in handling international terrorism cases.
Some critics have argued that federal criminal courts are simply not equipped to handle the challenges posed by international terrorism cases. These critics either endorse the use of the military commission system or propose creating “national security courts”. Some argue for the power to detain without criminal charges or trials. Such alternative systems include ad hoc rules and procedures that depart in critical respects from American standards of justice.
Human Rights First holds that the federal criminal courts offer the United States its best line of judicial defense against Islamist extremist terrorism. Their report, written by two former federal prosecutors, shows how existing laws provide an effective basis for detaining, monitoring, and prosecuting terrorist suspects. These laws are the basis for over 100 international terrorism prosecutions over the past 15 years.
From Chap. XV, Conclusion, p. 129, “…Many of the purported criticisms of the justice system do not withstand scrutiny. Although the justice system is far from perfect, it has proved to be adaptable and has successfully handled a large number of important and challenging terrorism prosecutions over the past fifteen years without sacrificing national security interests or rigorous standards of fairness and due process…”
The report is very thorough, going through Brady vs. Maryland (the precedent that requires the government to disclose exculpatory information to the defense) in detail, along with the necessity for national security. Miranda, FISA, Clasfied Information Procedures Act (CIPA), etc. problems are discussed at length.
In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Court, written for Human Rights First by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP partners Richard B. Zabel and James J. Benjamin Jr., constitutes the most comprehensive and thorough examination to date of the federal prosecution of terrorism cases.