Terrorism: October 29, 2001


How We Will Try Bin Laden- There has been something of a nightmare scenario debated since the war began. If we happened to capture Osama bin Laden and/or some of his key aides, the trial could be a problem. Several years of high security trials, demands by ACLU attorneys to release key intelligence data, terrorist threats, and even kidnappings of the families of witnesses or jurors could result. (This nightmare may not be all it is cracked up to be. Four key bin Laden aides were just convicted of the African embassy bombings.) But if there is a concern, there is also an alternative. The US could court-martial bin Laden, Sheikh Omar, and their key deputies for war crimes. This was done in 1942 when eight German spies landed in the US from submarines with orders to spread terror by blowing up factories, bridges, railroads, and department stores. They were tried by a military commission, and six of them were executed within 60 days of landing. The US Supreme Court then declared unanimously that the trial was completely legal, since unlawful combatants are not deserving of the status of prisoners of war. 

Such a trial might take place on a ship at sea. Under existing laws, the trial would be brief. There might well be no reporters, and no chance of escaping on a technicality. Intelligence sources and methods would be protected, and the standard of evidence would not be "beyond a reasonable doubt" but simply a "preponderance of the evidence". Appeals would be limited to the theater commander and the President, and could be resolved within a day or two. Execution by firing squad and burial at sea would follow. The media might not even be told until the executions were complete.
Such a trial would be denounced by the Islamic radicals who would denounce any trial, and by European leftists. But the reaction would last only one news cycle, while a civilian trial might keep a captured terrorist in the news for years.--Stephen V Cole


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