US Attorney General Eric Holder Feb. 3 defended his decision to charge suspected “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in US federal court. Holder, who has resisted calls from high-level Republicans to try Abdulmutallab in a military tribunal, said that the civilian criminal justice system was capable of handling his trial. In a letter to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Holder cited longstanding policy, first initiated under George W. Bush, that suspects apprehended on US soil are tried in civilian court. Holder also defended his decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda warnings as consistent with FBI policy on custodial interrogations.
In a speech to the Heritage foundation, McConell said that the Bush administration had been wrong in seeking civilian trials for terrorism suspects as it went against hundreds of precedent and the law of war. (Jurist, Feb. 4)
A Jan. 9 letter in the New York Times joined the growing chorus for a military tribunal:
For example, in 1942 eight Nazi saboteurs who landed on Long Island and in Florida were tried before a specially constituted military commission appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
American citizens…should be afforded all of their constitutional rights in civilian courts… But trying foreign terrorists before military commissions recognizes that their actions are not just mere crimes, but acts of war.
Way back in December 2001, arch-conservative NY Times columnist William Safire decried that Bush was “using that Roosevelt mistake as precedent for his own dismaying departure from due process.” He noted that the tribunals then being organized violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 10 of the Declaration states: “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”
The question touches on the fate of several Guantánamo Bay detainees who may still face military tribunals.