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Archive for March, 2010

Justice Dept. & Law Enforcement Should Decide on 9/11 Trial Venue– Not Politicians

By Ross Parker

The decision of where and in what forum—civilian court or military commission—to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants has sparked a political firestorm of debate.

“Conservative” politicians and pundits have managed to cast the debate in terms of rights of enemy combatants versus the legitimate security needs of the United States. In other words, which is more important, the lives of Americans or the rights of terrorists? When put that way, it is easy to tell which hand has the chocolate.

The administration has been dithering and straddling on the issue. Reports have it that the President’s advisers are recommending a shift to the predominant or even exclusive use of military commissions and that his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is discussing a deal with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

All of this partisan posturing obscures and politicizes a question which should be decided by law enforcement and Justice Department professionals according to the needs and circumstances of a particular case. Why should we eliminate as an option the criminal justice system which has so successfully resulted in hundreds of double digit prison terms for those convicted of terrorism-related violations?

Some have argued that the terrorism conviction rate in the federal district courts misses the point. However, these numbers are such an overwhelming endorsement of the use of the civilian court system.

Of the approximately eight hundred alleged terrorists charged since 9/11, over five hundred of the less than six hundred whose cases have been resolved have been convicted (almost 90%). About two hundred are still pending. Moreover, the average sentence has been about 16 years. In comparison, the 20 military cases have produced 3 convictions and two of the defendants have already been released. With such statistics, it is difficult to be overly concerned about the procedural disadvantages of the civil system.

The inevitable conclusion is that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, along with the Justice Department prosecutors have been quite effective in terrorism cases. Their experience and professionalism in the use of intelligence, apprehension of targets, and marshalling of persuasive evidence have been unmatched. Moreover, the civilian court system has proven to be efficient, to possess unquestioned credibility, and to pose few obstacles to the presentation of all relevant evidence.

Are there costs involved in a predominant civil court system option in terrorism cases? Obviously there are, including the financial burden of high security trials and the safety issues posed by the prosecutions and incarcerations of these defendants. But these are simply the price of maintaining a democracy based on the rule of law and individual liberties. And, compared to the alternative, these costs are manageable.

Rejecting the civilian court system presents some serious costs which are not so manageable. Some of these costs are intangible, such as the loss of confidence in the traditional reliance on the rule of law and the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. Others are more practical, especially the reduced American credibility and positive relationships with our allies, which are so important to winning the war on terrorism. Extradition decisions, international law enforcement cooperation and our diplomatic efforts on human rights come to mind.

What effect does it have to treat these defendants as enemy combatants rather than accused criminals, as soldiers and warriors rather than mass murderers, to allow them to place the focus on the legitimacy of their cause rather than the nature of their crimes?

Some say that the danger of exposing secret information is too great. The fact is, however, that the risk of disclosure of classified information has simply not been a significant issue in terrorism cases. The Classified Information Procedures Act, though in need of some legislative fine tuning, has effectively enabled federal prosecutors to manage both discovery and trial evidence issues without risk of danger of exposure of sensitive information.

Two decades ago this same fear was expressed in espionage cases, but it has proven not to endanger national security or pose a barrier to effective prosecution. Similarly, the specter of wholesale disclosure of sensitive and legally irrelevant information in terrorism cases is no more than an emotional red herring which obfuscates an intelligent discussion of the real choices to be made.

The military courts have an important role to play in the war against terrorism. No one can question the legitimacy of using this forum on foreign soil or against non-U.S. citizens who are military combatants. Deciding to utilize this system, on a case by case basis, may also prove to be appropriate in other situations.

But the use of our criminal justice professionals and system in the great majority of terrorism prosecutions presents an invaluable opportunity to say to the rest of the world that a free government based on the supremacy of the rule of law will continue to vanquish despotism and anarchy. This is subject which is too important to be left to demagogic politicians hunting for a campaign issue.

Ex-Birmingham, Ala. Mayor Larry Langford Sentenced to 15 Years in Corruption Case

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2tsyg_gs2Ihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2tsyg_gs2I

Ex-Mayor Responds to Conviction and Criticizes the Media

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbGJyyWivDs

Weekend Series on Crime History: The Philly Mob

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FA0uAlitH6A

Column: There’s Hope Obama Might Get 9/11 Trial Right With Military Commission

Steven Levin, a defense  attorney with the law firm Levin & Gallagher, is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. Prior to that, he served on active duty for seven years in the United States Army as a defense counsel, an appellate attorney and a trial attorney.

Steve Levin

Steve Levin

By Steven Levin

Finally, there is hope that the Obama Administration will get it right.

In overruling the Attorney General’s short-sighted and misguided decision to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) to a civilian court in New York City, the White House will have acknowledged at least two things that those of us with military and federal government experience have long known.

First, the US Armed Forces has a proven history of fairly and effectively conducting military commissions. Second, the federal courts are not the optimal venue for trying alien enemy combatants who are captured while committing acts of war against our country.

By now, many of us are familiar with the long tradition of military commissions, which dates back to the 1780 trial of Major John Andre, who conspired with Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War.

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There’s Hope Obama Admin. Could Get 9/11 Trial Right

Finally, there is hope that the Obama Administration will get it right. In overruling the Attorney General’s short-sighted and misguided decision to send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) to a civilian court in New York City, the White House will have acknowledged at least two things that those of us with military and federal government experience have long known.

First, the US Armed Forces has a proven history of fairly and effectively conducting military commissions. Second, the federal courts are not the optimal venue for trying alien enemy combatants who are captured while committing acts of war against our country.

By now, many of us are familiar with the long tradition of military commissions, which dates back to the 1780 trial of Major John Andre, who conspired with Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War.

Interestingly, the Army’s Judge Advocate General commissioned artist Don Stivers to memorialize this event, then known as a Board of Inquiry or Board of Officers, in his 1998 Limited Edition Print, entitled, “You Sir, Are A Spy.” Both my copy of the print and Major Andre were promptly hanged.

Though he might still be executed today, MAJ Andre would have considerably more protections afforded him by the Military Commissions Act (MCA).

Notwithstanding the constant claims by various organizations that the MCA provides few procedural protections, the reality is just the opposite.

The accused has a host of rights, which include the right to counsel, the right to be informed of the charges sufficiently in advance of trial to prepare a defense, the right to be presumed innocent until determined to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the right not to testify at trial unless he so chooses, and the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution, just to name a few. There are also several rights relating to sentencing, review, and appeal.

Proponents of federal criminal trials for terrorists, and only federal criminal trials for terrorists, point to the terrorism-related conviction rates for support of their position. By doing so, they miss the point.

The issue is not whether an Assistant U.S. Attorney can win a case in court; the issue is whether the federal government will lose more than it will gain. That is, will a federal court be required to turn over sensitive information to an alleged terrorist that a military commission might not, even though it may have no bearing on a terrorist’s guilt?

By doing so, will national security be threatened? Those are at least two of the questions that need to be asked, and if the trial is to be in a civilian courtroom, the answer to both had better be “no.”

A Sign of The Crimes in Detroit

A bus in downtown Detroit Next to the U.S. District Court is covered with an ad soliticting crime tips/ticklethewire.com photo

A bus in downtown Detroit next to the U.S. District Court building./ticklethewire.com photo

Brutal Murder of DEA Agent Enrique Camarena 25 Years Ago a Reminder of the Agency’s Priorities

“Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena’s vicious kidnapping, torture, and murder 25 years ago remains a burning reminder of the dangers and high stakes involved in drug law enforcement” Michele Leonhart, Acting Administrator for the DEA

DEA's Michele Leonhart/dea photo

DEA's Michele Leonhart/dea photo

By Jerry Seper
Washington Times

WASHINGTON –– Twenty-five years ago today, the brutally beaten body of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique S. “Kiki” Camarena was discovered wrapped in plastic bags and dumped along a road near a ranch 60 miles southwest of Guadalajara, Mexico – a death that continues to echo even now throughout the agency.

The veteran agent, along with his pilot, Capt. Alfredo Zavala Avelar, had been viciously tortured by the bosses of a Mexican drug cartel fearful that he had uncovered a multimillion-dollar smuggling operation tied to top officers in the Mexican army, along with Mexican police and government officials.

Over a 30-hour period, Camarena’s skull, jaw, nose, cheekbones and windpipe had been crushed. His ribs were broken; a hole was drilled into his head with a screwdriver. The agent had been injected with drugs to ensure he remained conscious during his torture.

For Full Story

Obama Advisers Plan to Recommend a Military Tribunal for 9/11 Trial

Bye Bye New York?

Bye Bye New York?

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

After insisting a federal court in New York was the place to be, the Obama administration appears to be  inching toward a reversal of all that.

The Washington Post reports that the presidents advisers “are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said.”

The move might make some folks on both sidesof the political isle happy. But it doesn’t look so great for Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. who was adamant about a New York trial.

For Full Story