Just the Facts, Ma’am: Civilian Courts Versus Military Tribunals

Where are the Democrats and why aren’t they pushing back?

If you’re like a lot of people — say, Liz Cheney — you’ve been wondering why Barack Obama seems to think the rights of terrorists are more important than the lives of the American people and wants to give them civilian trials and let them get “lawyered up,” in the suddenly voguish phrase, so they can take advantage of sneaky liberal wrinkles in the law inserted in there by sneaky liberal defense lawyers and judges over the years. This is instead of hauling them before military tribunals, the current hot right-wing talking point.

Oh, you’re not one of those people? Okay, then. You might therefore be interested to know the following:
The Bush administration — in which Liz Cheney’s papa held a fairly high position, you might recall — prosecuted, after 9-11, 828 people on terrorism charges in civilian courts. At the time of publication of this excellent report from the Center on Law and Security, NYU School of Law last year, trials were still pending against 235 of those folks. That leaves 593 resolved indictments, of which 523 were convicted of some crime, for a conviction rate of 88%.

With regard to military tribunals, the Bush administration inaugurated 20 such cases. So far just three convictions have been won. The highest-profile is the conviction of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. The Hamdan legal saga, rehearsed here, doesn’t exactly suggest that military tribunals provide swifter and surer and tougher justice. In the end, he was convicted all right, but sentenced — not by a bunch of New York City Democrats, but by a military jury! — to five and half years.

Then, the tribunal judge, a US Navy captain, gave Hamdan credit for time served, which was five years. So he served six months after conviction. Today he’s back in — guess where? — Yemen.

So here’s the situation. Bush/Cheney found civilian prosecution a perfectly acceptable path to pursue in 828 cases. They’ve won convictions at an impressive rate in those civilian prosecutions. The most high-profile military prosecution was kind of a disaster.

And yet, Obama is a weakling because Abdulmutallab is being treated the way the Bush administration treated 828 “suspects,” to use a word the right has declared reveals a girly-mannish mindset. Amazing. And again: where are the Democrats and why aren’t they pushing back on this?


JAG: GOP Criticism Of Obama On Underwear Bomber Way Off-Base

“There is a similar mischaracterization over what can be done in terms of interrogating the detainee, claim Cullen and others. Republican critics of the president insist that Obama forfeited effective interrogation measures by declining to go the route of a military commission. But there are limitations to what even military interrogators could do with Abdulmutallab.”

If Republican critics of President Obama are to be believed, the administration made one of the biggest blunders in national security history when it placed the accused underwear bomber in the criminal justice system as opposed to the military alternative.

It’s simply not true, say legal experts, including officials who formerly served in the military tribunal system.

James Cullen, a retired brigadier general who served as a JAG officer, tells the Huffington Post that there are narrow differences between the legal and interrogation proceedings Abdulmutallab was subjected to and those which would have happened in a military commission.

Read More: Huffington Post


Filed under Al-Qaeda, Conservative, Courts, Crime, Law, Military, Republicans, Terrorism

40 responses to “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Civilian Courts Versus Military Tribunals

  1. Stephen

    Two months after 9/11, President Bush signed an Executive Order authorizing the U.S. government to try accused terrorists in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts. The president’s decision was swiftly and widely condemned by the political left in the US.

    • I think if you read the article you’ll find that military tribunals, statistically speaking, are inferior methods of trying and sentencing suspects.

      That’s the point MORE convictions and LONGER sentences in civilian courts.

      Even Bush figured that out.

  2. Stephen

    But in a civilian setting, the terrorist have more freedoms, in court and once they are convicted and in prison. Another thing , the rules defining admissible and inadmissible evidence differ dramatically in civilian vs. military tribuanls. In civilian trials, neither coerced testimony, nor confessions made in the absence of a Miranda warning, nor hearsay evidence can presented to the court; in military tribunals the opposite is true. And do we really want to endanger classified intelligence sources in a civilian court?

    • The underwear bomber talked for 30 HOURS he WAIVED his Miranda rights. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/us/07indict.html
      We got a boatload of information from him, so there goes your theory.

      Please square you argument that military tribunals work better than civilian courts with this from the above article:
      With regard to military tribunals, the Bush administration inaugurated 20 such cases. So far just three convictions have been won. The highest-profile is the conviction of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. The Hamdan legal saga doesn’t exactly suggest that military tribunals provide swifter and surer and tougher justice. In the end, he was convicted all right, but sentenced — not by a bunch of New York City Democrats, but by a military jury! — to five and half years.

      Then, the tribunal judge, a US Navy captain, gave Hamdan credit for time served, which was five years. So he served six months after conviction. Today he’s back in — guess where? — YEMEN.


      as for classified information being disclosed in a civilian trial, poppycock! No judge would allow classified information to be revealed in open court. Not one.

  3. Stephen

    LOL… 30 hours.. You obviously have never worked in law enforcement. And, you cannot apply the “30 hour logic” to just one individual and say “see it works”

    • Capone

      Just look at the data.

      400+ cases resolved in civilian courts with an 87% conviction rate vs 3 convictions out of 20 cases in military tribunals.

      It’s not even close man.

  4. Stephen


    The rules governing the admissibility of coerced testimony and hearsay have a direct bearing on the case of Jose Padilla, who is now being tried in a civilian court. In June 2004 the Justice Department released a declassified document enumerating Padilla’s various terrorist plans and his al-Qaeda connections. The information therein came not only from Padilla’s own admissions, but also from a number of additional al-Qaeda detainees who independently confirmed (sometimes through coerced testimony) the details that Padilla gave, particularly about the plots to detonate a “dirty bomb” and to blow up apartment buildings. But none of this evidence will be admissible in Padilla’s current trial. Consequently, he is being formally charged with offenses of far less gravity than those detailed in the aforementioned Justice Department document. (see above link for an explanation)

    • You never responded to the Hamdan debacle in the military tribunal system. This was Bin Laden’s body guard for Christ’s sake and he’s now running free in YEMEN.

      The facts are clear the civilian system works better and gives better long term results then the military system.

      I doubt you’ll ever concede to facts though.

    • well, Bush changed his status from “enemy combatant” and put him in the federal system… like I said, even Bush is smart enough to know what works.

      “On August 16, 2007, José Padilla was found guilty, by a federal jury”

  5. Stephen


    “On June 9, 2002, President George W. Bush signed a memorandum designating Padilla as an enemy combatant and directed the Secretary of Defense to take him into custody.

    Padilla was “transferred from control of the U.S. Department of Justice to military control” the same day. He was then “held” in the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. He was not “charged with a crime” and did not “have access to a lawyer in his detention

    After three years in detention, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced November 17, 2005, that Padilla, “held without charge for more than three years as an enemy combatant,” had been indicted “in what the federal authorities said was a plot to ‘murder, kidnap and maim’ people overseas,” David Stout reported in the November 22, 2005, New York Times.

    Gonzales said that “Padilla had conspired as part of a ‘North American support cell’ to send ‘money, physical assets and new recruits’ overseas to engage in acts of terrorism and that he had traveled abroad himself to become ‘a violent jihadist’,” Stout wrote.

    “Scott Silliman, a Duke University law professor, who specializes in national security, theorized that the government had secured the indictment against Mr. Padilla so that it could sidestep a Supreme Court showdown over when and for how long American citizens could be held in military prisons,” Stout reported. “

    • I have no idea what your point is by posting that lengthy cut and paste.

      Padilla was ultimately tried in a U.S. court of law, not by a tribunal. He was convicted, sentenced, and is in Federal prison cuddling with his cellmate as we speak.

      I have full confidence in our court system, I have no confidence in the clowns that governed us during two terms of Bush, especially Alberto Gonzalez.

    • Capone

      On August 16, 2007, a federal jury found Jose Padilla guilty of conspiring to kill people in an overseas jihad, and to fund and support overseas terrorism.

      On January 22, 2008, Padilla was sentenced by Judge Marcia G. Cooke of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida to 17 years and four months in prison.

      In June of 2012 the appeal was dismissed for lack of merit.

  6. Stephen

    He was sentenced to 5 1/2 years of imprisonment by a military jury for “providing material support” to al Qaeda, but was cleared of terrorism conspiracy charges. So what is your beef? Site two cases in a civilian court where a terrorist found guilty of “providing material support” to Al Qaeda was given a longer sentence..

  7. Stephen

    and you can also lie… 11 charges versus 1 is a big differences.. In addition to the “conspiring to support terrorism” Oussama had 11 addittional charges and a prior.. Apples to oranges… nice try..


    “On May 12 2009 Kassir was found guilty by a federal jury on all eleven charges brought against him. The jury deliberated for a mere five and a half hours.[5] The verdict came despite the fact that several of the charges had been investigated and dropped in Sweden, a fact which was explained by terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp: “There is a difference in respect to what kind of evidence is required for someone to be sentenced in European and American courts in cases like this.” He continued: “I am not that impressed by the evidential requirements of the American judicial system.” He did not, however, exclude the possibility of Kassir being guilty.[6] The perceived difficulty of obtaining a fair trial in terrorism trials in America was also criticized by civil rights activists, who also noted that the charges had already been tried and dropped by Swedish authorities. A spokesperson for Charta 2008 stated: “I think it is very hard to get a fair trial for someone described as a terrorist in the USA. The jury system directly reflects existing prejudice.”

  8. Stephen

    Do you even read the material that you post???

    “Virginia announced today that Iyman Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda and conspiracy for providing the terrorist organization with information about possible U.S. targets for attack”

    again, there are additional charges beyond the “material support and resources to al Qaeda”

  9. Stephen

    You obviously did not read the Jose Padillia info in its entirety.

    “Bush signed a memorandum designating Padilla as an enemy combatant and directed the Secretary of Defense to take him into custody. ”

    Most of the eveidence agsinst Jose in the military coulr was not admissible in the civilian court.

  10. Stephen

    Good day GeoT I must move on.. But, I will definitely keep the links that you have provided in my favorites… Thanks for the spirited exchange and I apologize for the use of the phrase “you can lie” that was not my intent to call you a liar. I was going to poke fun of you and the dems but hit the “submit commnet” to soon.

  11. angels81

    The last thing al-Qaeda wants, is for their thugs to be tried in a civilian court. By the US showing the world that we stand by our laws and have faith in our legal system, goes against all the propaganda that al-Qaeda spews about us. al-Qaeda would rather see us try their people in secret military tribunals were they can make the claims of torture and kangaroo courts.

    By showing the world that we are not afraid to try these thugs under the laws of this country, and give them a fair trial in public, will be a blow to the al-Qaeda propaganda machine. We should have trust in our legal system that has made this country great.

  12. angels81

    OT but, what the hell is going on over at Taylor Marshes site? For the last week I’ve had to check if I had logged onto Red State by mistake. If I was a repug or tea bagger, all I’d have to do is cut and paste Taylor’s site. Say anything good about Obama or Democrats and you will get shot down quick.

    I understand being peeved at Obama and dems but, lets not forget who will take over if Democrats lose big in 2010. I don’t think I can take that kind of nightmare again.

    • well….

      they’ve been kind of gradually heading in that direction for some time.

      • betsmeier

        angels that’s why I won’t go there anymore and comment. Although I do go and read. Between kris, djjl, LL, it just seems that the attacks are getting worse. And of course the defense of Hillary is so obvious it isn’t even funny.
        So, I just choose to no longer comment in there. And of course TM loves to rile them up under the guise that she’s reporting both sides.
        I’m also beginning to think she really does think Palin is great. Who knows, it’s all just too depressing.

  13. angels81

    Hi Betsy, good to hear from you. I missed you over at Taylor’s, but now that I have found were you folks went, I’ve found a new home.

    • ogenec

      I hope that you mean that. I don’t always agree with you, but I have always admired the way you insist on keeping it about the issues. Please don’t just post comments here. Put up threads on things bugging you, so we can have a spirited debate.

      As for me, I agree with this thesis from the Washington Post, that there are four political parties, not two: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/postpartisan/2010/01/dick_morris_sees_two_parties_i.htm I’m an unabashed member of the centrist party. You guys are progressives. The tension between both parties is very high. But I believe neither of us can gain power, much less govern effectively, without the other. So it behooves us to find ways to cooperate on the foundational planks of a center-left program for a lasting Democratic majority. Instead of beating each other’s brains out.

      I intend to put up posts over the next year that will explore these ideas and augment them with input from like-minded folks (including my fellow 44-Ders). At some point you wake up and say, WTF I am waiting on someone else for? And you do it yourself. That is, when you’re not singing the praises of DJ Hero and extolling questionable music choices. 🙂

  14. betsmeier

    Hey ogenec, I hate to tell you but when I took a survey I came out as a centrist also. I think the only thing that I’m progressive on is the health care reform. 🙂

  15. betsmeier

    Angels, if you come back to this thread I hope you will answer my question. My brother in law was in the airborne in Vietnam and he has agent orange. Are you having some of the symptoms that they have been talking about. If so, I found some interesting stuff and I will email it to you.

  16. angels81

    betsmeier, I have been lucky and not had any symptoms from agent orange. I have been tested by the VA a couple of times, and no signs.

    I operated in the central Highlands of Vietnam and saw the results of agent orange on the jungle and the people. I have lost good friends to this poison, and this is a black mark on this country that most people know little about.

    I hope your brother in law will be OK, and have him make sure he holds the VA’s feet to the fire.

  17. betsmeier

    Yes, they are really holding VA responsible. He has diabetes and they had to fight that one too. Just another disease that’s related to agent orange. They tried to tell him that because his mother is diabetic it’s genetic with him. My sister, who is a very persistent woman wouldn’t give in to them and they finally are giving him credit for that one.

  18. Hi all, here every person is sharing such experience, thus it’s pleasant to read this webpage, and I used to pay a quick visit this blog all the time.

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