Prosecute Christmas bomber in federal court

In the aftermath of the foiled Christmas Day bombing, the media and several of my former colleagues in Congress have challenged the Obama administration’s decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in federal court rather than by military commission. The administration’s decision, however, should be welcomed not criticized, as a clear affirmation of the strength and resiliency of our criminal justice system.

As a former member of Congress and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. In my opinion, that magnificent document is far stronger than critics of the administration’s decision in the Abdulmutallab case consider it to be; and it provides a robust and fully adequate mechanism for ensuring justice is done and America protected against actual and would-be terrorists.

Trials of terrorism suspects like Abdulmutallab in traditional federal courts are not only consistent with the Constitution and our American values, but are also far more effective in achieving justice than their constitutionally flawed counterparts, the military commissions. Since 2001, nearly 200 terrorists have been convicted by way of our federal court system.  Contrast that record with that of the military commissions, which have convicted only three low-level terrorists. Moreover, expensive and time-consuming legal challenges to the commissions continue to seriously hamper their effectiveness. Renewing the use of these commissions will ensure further delays and expense.

Those who oppose the decision to use our traditional criminal justice system are focused on instilling fear in the American people. In addition, assertions that more intelligence could have been extracted from Abdulmutallab had he been transferred to military custody are faulty as well as disconcerting. This perspective suggests that military interrogation should have been undertaken because “alternative methods” of interrogation (wink, wink) are permitted and would result in accurate and useable information. This scenario also implies that because Abdulmutallab was read Miranda rights and provided an attorney, we can attain no further information and that he would not talk to authorities. This simply is not the case. Authorities already have gained information from him and they are confident they will continue to learn information as the justice process unfolds.

Terrorism suspects should be brought down by the very thing they seek to destroy – American values. Thus, we should try them in the very federal courts that our U.S. Constitution established. Our country’s founders conferred upon the government the power to protect us from our enemies and to prosecute and detain those who violate our laws. They also created a system for ensuring that those efforts are conducted within the boundaries of the Constitution. It is time to face the fact that the military commissions system of trying and detaining terrorist suspects has failed. Now is the time to return to and reaffirm our faith in our constitutional criminal justice system.

While I support the administration’s decision to try Abdulmutallab in federal court, I remain troubled by its dedication to try other terror suspects in military commissions. That is why I have joined a bipartisan coalition of over 130 former diplomats, military officials, federal judges and prosecutors, and members of Congress, as well as bar leaders, national security and foreign policy experts, and family members of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in issuing “Beyond Guantanamo: A Bipartisan Declaration.” The Declaration sets forth constitutional principles for dealing with present and future terrorism suspects upon the closing of Guantanamo; namely, trying terrorism suspects in regular federal courts rather than military commissions, and rejecting indefinite detention without charges. These principles recognize and affirm that we can keep our country safe while still adhering to the rule of law and the values that are embodied in our Constitution; they have stood the test of time for over 200 years and should not be jettisoned as we move into the 21st Century.

80 comments Add your comment

Chris Broe

January 11th, 2010
6:53 am

First* (in the hearts of my countrymen).

*If George Washington was a stool sample, (and a total idiot).

Chris Broe

January 11th, 2010
7:00 am

However you try the Detroit BVD IED’r, the guy that closed down Newark airport with a kiss should get a military tribunal. Ditto that horse poacher. And Katie Courik 2. Now I’m mad.

neoCarlinist

January 11th, 2010
7:41 am

I think what is being lost in this debate is the fact that the evidence suggests NEITHER tactic (Gitmo/tribunals, Federal trials) is “winning” the war on terrorism. Perhaps the debate itself is a tactic employed by those who benefit most from the war (hint: it’s not the American people).

Corey

January 11th, 2010
7:55 am

If it was good enough for Richard Reid(the shoe bomber)under Bush it’s good enough for this young man under Obama lest some of us(Guiliana and others)conveniently forget.

Red

January 11th, 2010
8:05 am

Are you saying justice could not be given in a military court? Are we now saying military courts offer no sort of justice whatsoever? And no one is denying justice could be given in a civilian court. The difference is the process and procedures – the difference between the two. This man is not seeking justice. He is seeking an audience. All of these criminals are seeking an audience. It is a civilian court that he will give his diatribe on the evils of America. It is there he and others can give out code of their own intel back to Al Qaeda. It is there he and others can make a mockery of the justice system. These people are about eroding our way of life.

If they could turn their own trials into an elevated version of the OJ trial, you will have a complete meltdown in the confidence of the justice system in this country. And it would not take much to do that. And with some noble grand gesture that we can win back the hearts and minds of the Middle East with a civilian trial, this Administration wishes to hand the terrorists what they want. And thus will be complacent in the final result.

As for the Left’s Reid argument, you are arguing because Bush picked one person with little value versus Obama with every single captured terrorist facing trial. Stop using Reid as an argument. It only weakens it.

Andrew

January 11th, 2010
8:16 am

Excellent article. I’m glad voices on both the Left and Right are uniting behind the Constitution! What’s to fear by using a criminal justice system deemed fit to try and punish other evil elements of our society. The thing that separates us from the medieval societies of the Middle East is our commitment to justice and individual rights. Like Mr. Barr said, “Terrorism suspects should be brought down by the very thing they seek to destroy – American values.”

hatin' on the stupid

January 11th, 2010
8:20 am

This common sense, honest look at the issues is why I have made a 180 on Bob Barr. I have appreciated, for a while now, his championing of privacy rights and shunning of the usual talking points of the right. I have thought for a while now that left and right have more in common than the powers that benefit from keeping us divided would care to admit. Maybe what we need is a Unity party, to emphasize these commonalities. Thanks, Bob. I have appreciated your letters to our local Jasper newspaper as well.

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
8:23 am

BARR………..JUST ANOTHER CLOSET LIBERAL……..writing for the Atlanta-Obama-Journal………Preaching the PARTY LINE…

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
8:24 am

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT…….

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
8:26 am

NOW ENEMY COMBANTANTs are given rights of AMERICAN CITIZENS…WOW…WOW…WOW

DAVID-AJC Truth Detector

January 11th, 2010
8:42 am

TRY A TERRORIST in the same FEDERAL COURT where they tried Michael VICK-????

Road Scholar

January 11th, 2010
8:49 am

DAVID-AJC: “YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT…….”

Please do!Notice I left off the truth detector part; and stop “yelling” Find the caps lock button! A legend in your own mind!

Bob, I’m with Andrew above. Now get on with the trials!

Libertarian

January 11th, 2010
8:52 am

@ David-Ajc Truth Detector,

How does trying this man in the American courst system give him the rights of an American citizen? Will he be issued a SSN, given the right to vote, be allowed to take the test to become an American citizen??
Just curious. And by the way, (correct me if I am wrong because I maybe misremebering this) but after just recently teaching the US Constitution to my 8th graders I do not remember there being a section in the Constitution giving us the right to try people in a military court.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
9:13 am

Enemy terrorist combatants captured in the act and “out of uniform” deserve no trial (civilian or military). They should be interrorgated for a couple of days and then shot by military firing squad just like Gen. Eisenhower had done to German soldiers caputred out of uniform in WWII.

I realize some of these terrorists are so “poor” they can’t afford a uniform so a simple 4″ by 4″ patch will do. It must be very colorful and designate them as a member of the Islamic Jihad Terrorist Army and be worn on their clothing or nightshirt 24/7. Our soldiers wear the American flag so they can wear such a “patch” or they get the firing squad.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
9:20 am

P.S. I have taken the oath also and it wasn’t to the President, the Congress or the Supreme Court ………. it was to the Constitution and that is a profound difference.

We are at war. Even Obama had the guts to say that recentlty. These people are not criminals, they are soldiers of a terrorist army. The goal of defeating an army is not to try them in courts (civilian or military) but to dispose of them as fast and furious as you can on the field of battle. The U.S. is part of that field of battle.

A much better scenario on that aircraft Christmas day would not have been passengers wrestling with him as he tried to ignite the bomb, but an Air Marshal putting a bullet right in his cranial vault!

Hal Smith

January 11th, 2010
9:25 am

Mr. Barr, you were exactly on target and correct in today’s (Monday) Opinion piece. The reason that some want military tribunals is they have visions of bringing out he water board and having some really great fun! We must stand for what we believe or we believe nothing – and out judicial system is one of the things that makes our country safe and secure. I don’t always agree with you, but this time: YEEHAW!!! Right on target!

Mark

January 11th, 2010
9:52 am

WOW! Two reasoned and reasonable columns from Bob Barr in a row. I am impressed. What a refreshing contrast from the demagoguery of many critics of the decision.
If ridgerunner wants the terrorists to be considered “soldiers of a terrorist army,” does he wants to afford them also the protection of Geneva Convention?War crimes are in the jurisdiction of a federal court, anyway..

“TRY A TERRORIST in the same FEDERAL COURT where they tried Michael VICK-????” writes DAVID-AJC Truth Detector. Does he want to have different Federal courts for different crimes?

Karl Marx

January 11th, 2010
9:56 am

Mr. Barr,

You rapid descent into Loony-tarianism is now complete. Why on earth would you give rights of our citizens to non citizen terrorist who is out to do any damage they can. They will flood the judicial system as part of an effort to bankrupt us and use it to spew their warped political agenda. They are not interested is really defending themselves. These terrorist do not recognize the Geneva Convention or our constitution. They willingly cut off innocent’s peoples heads on camera. This is an act of war not a criminal act

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:13 am

Karl, Marx: War crimes fall under the jurisdiction of federal courts. As for “Why on earth would you give rights of our citizens to non citizen terrorist …”, you might as well argue; “Why would you want to give rights to an (American) mass murderer, who cut people heads (in the US) …

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
10:15 am

Treating terrorists this way cheapens (not enhances) my citizenship as an American. If they have the same rights I have then mine mean less. Just one man’s opinion but I know millions of Americans agree with me.

Mark

January 11th, 2010
10:22 am

Ridgerunner: Millions of American may agree with you, but that does not give your and tgheir opinion any more sense. Do the rights of an Anmerican mass murderer cheapen your citizenship?

jconservative

January 11th, 2010
10:35 am

So far the military commission trials have been an inefficient failure.
One of the 3 cases completed, that’s 3 cases in 8 years, resulted in turning the guy loose for time served at Gitmo. They found him guilty but turned him loose!

And rememember, it was the military that turned all those Gitmo prisoners loose without trials and now a bunch of them are back in the terrorist business.

The number one experts on trying terrorists in this country are the Federal District Courts, in particular the Southern District of NY. The military are actually amateurs, they have not done commission trials in any of these guys lifetimes.

Rockerbabe

January 11th, 2010
10:40 am

I think all this hullaboo about military commissions is about other people’s perception that “national security” is at risk in a civilian court. . .didn’t we prove ourselves stronger and better than than during the Nixon era? Try all of these alleged terrorist in civilian court; we as a nation always spout off about the “rule of law” and usually it is the lawyers and the repugs to sound off most loudly of all. So let’s put our convictions to the test; either the rule of law applies or it doesn’t. I think if the lawyers involved would just stick to the facts and put aside personal ambitions and political aspirations, we could show the world just how well our system of courts and laws really works. What is everyone afraid of? The truth?

jconservative

January 11th, 2010
10:44 am

Ridgerunner – “Treating terrorists this way cheapens (not enhances) my citizenship as an American. If they have the same rights I have then mine mean less.”

That is the way it has been since 1789. If you are sincere in your belief, you might want to start a process to amend the Constitution.
Remember, the Supreme Court with a Republican majority has ruled against the Commissions in virtually all cases.

Write the two Republican senators from Georgia, they both agree with your position. Amend the Constitution. There is plenty of time, we are going to be in this “War on Terror” for several generations. And the amendment process would give the American people, in their state legislatures, an opportunity to vote on just that one issue.

hatin' on the stupid

January 11th, 2010
11:01 am

Ridgerunner – “Treating terrorists this way cheapens (not enhances) my citizenship as an American. If they have the same rights I have then mine mean less.”

Not to worry, your demogogery on these pages cheapens you aplenty.

Karl Marx

January 11th, 2010
11:02 am

Mark the big difference is the mass murderer you use as an example is a citizen. We don’t go out an try another countries citizen mass murder in our courts. Your argument is just plain wrong.

Stan Kelley

January 11th, 2010
11:05 am

Bob, You are good on Civil Liberties. We are both card carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union. We both like security but do not believe its necessary to get it.

DirtyDawg

January 11th, 2010
11:20 am

Bob, now that you have demonstrated that you are a far more reasonable and thoughtful person/columnist that I had previously imagined, how about getting behind what I believe is the only thing that can same this country from her insane, partisan, mindless, hateful, bickering that has resulted in our Government not being able to accomplish anything. Namely we’ve got to get the bribery out of politics. Public financing of campaigns…legal limits on both the time-frame and types of campaigning…putting a stop to the accepting of contributions – hell, from any source as far as I’m concerned, after all politicians will no longer have to pay for campaigning so they have no need for, or excuse, accepting the money. I firmly believe that if we end the bribery then only the true crooks will do crooked things – and they’ll be easy to catch because they won’t have the veil of ‘legal campaign contributions’ to hide behind…and to hell with the ‘free speech’ crap about corporations and other organizations having a right to ‘bribe’ pols.

This may be far tougher than establishing things like term limits – which I believe doesn’t really do anything about busting up the ‘legalized bribery’ system – it just spreads the largess around more. Only a populous movement, using the current examples of health-care and finance industry money corrupting the process, will suffice. Once upon a time John McCain caught a pretty strong breeze that looked as if it would push him into the Presidency, but he lost his nerve – or perhaps was just conning us all along – on Campaign Finance Reform. But I believe that a more dramatic effort that doesn’t compromise on anything short of ‘if you’re an elected official you get your paycheck and a limited amount of reimbursement on expenses, and that’s if. No more gettin’ rich for what you’re supposed to be doing ‘for the people’.

DirtyDawg

January 11th, 2010
11:22 am

…make that ’save’ the country…

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
11:31 am

Mark:

Not if he is a U.S. citizen. But to me a foreign terrorist soldier (trained in Yemen) derserves none of my rights.

Swede Atlanta

January 11th, 2010
11:33 am

Why is there any discussion about this?

This suspect is accused of commiting violations of U.S. law onboard an American aircraft. He is a criminal. He should be tried and convicted in a civilian court the same way we tried Timothy McVeigh and others who violate U.S. law.

Why are so many people afraid of our criminal justice system? If anything, at least in state courts, we are finding that we are convicting and executing innocent men and women. I have every confidence we can try and convict this criminal and securely confine him for the rest of his natural life.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
11:36 am

To jconservative : More than that ………. I would like to see a Constitutional Convention. It’s time we got a lot of things straightened out.

To hatin’ on the stupid : If you want to debate something in a reasonable tone, fine. If all you are into is name calling, etc. please don’t bother replying to my posts.

Stan Kelley

January 11th, 2010
11:41 am

Sorry, I meant that we do not believe it is necessary to sacrifice liberty in order to be secure. In addition, I will add that, if someone wants absolute security, he or she will never be happy because such a thing is never possible. Death is certain. Only the time and manner are uncertain.

Fred Scanling

January 11th, 2010
11:45 am

This is your opinion at its best. If we don’t believe that we have the best justice system in the world, what do we believe?

Stan Kelley

January 11th, 2010
11:45 am

Ridgerunner. So you want a Constitutional Convention? Are you unsatisfied with the one produced by Washington, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton et. al.? Do you think you can do better? I suggest a three martini lunch to calm down.

Mark

January 11th, 2010
12:14 pm

Ridgerunner: You stil have not explained how trying a foreign criminal in a federal court (whcih is the proper place for trying war criminals) “cheapens your citizenship.”

Swede Atlanta

January 11th, 2010
12:20 pm

Mark @ 12:14

I suspect Ridgerunner means that U.S. citizenship should come with more rights than someone who is not a U.S. citizenship. By giving a non-citizen the same rights as a citizen, that means U.S. citizenship isn’t as valuable.

I wonder what Ridgerunner’s view is with respect to Amanda Knox. Should she have been afforded fewer rights in an Italian court than an Italian national? For example should she have been prevented from cross-examining witnesses, etc.?

Mark

January 11th, 2010
12:38 pm

Swede Atlanta: You may be right, and to me, that view of Ridgerunner is unacceptable. I do not think that the value of my citizenship has an anything to do with anybody else having the same rights.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:41 pm

To Swede Atlanta: Thank you for reply to Mark @ 12:14 for me. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Regarding Amanda Knox, she should get the same rights as any Italian. She is NOT a terrorist. She did not go to France to attack that country. That is the difference here.

Had the “Fruit of the Boom” bomber instead have come to America to study and then robbed a bank, I have no problem with trying him completely under our system.

The difference is terrorist combatant vs. common criminal.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:43 pm

To Stan Kelley @ 11:45 :

That’s why the men you mentioned set up a mechanism in our Constitution for the States to call a Constitutional Convention. Surely you know that?

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:46 pm

P.S. to Stan Kelley:

Article V

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Swede Atlanta

January 11th, 2010
12:50 pm

Ridgerunner @ 12:41

Glad we understand your position. But why should someone who comes to commit an act of terrorism be treated, in terms of process and rights, than anyone else? As per my first posting today, this guy allegedly violated several U.S. laws. Thus he is a criminal and thus he should be tried and if convicted sentenced appropriately.

For example, I personally consider those responsible for the debacles at Enron, MCI, AIG, etc. “financial” terrorists. They acted out of greed and didn’t care how many lives they ruined in the process.

They destroyed the lives of millions of Americans and in fact their actions have driven some to commit suicide.

I have a hard time understanding why you want different rights for someone accused of attempting to blow up an airplane any differently than you would someone who shoots down 4 police officers as happened in Washington state. They both committed heinous crimes.

MrLiberty

January 11th, 2010
12:53 pm

Putting him on trial in a public forum would allow him to point out the obvious (well to the educated among us) – that the US foreign policy, the unilateral support for Israel, our involvement in the recent bombings of innocents in Yemen and other unconstitutional and unconscionable actions in the Middle East are the reasons behind all terrorists acts against america and its citizens.

Now we couldn’t have that now could we? It might expose a truth that too many millions are unwilling to admit. That would force them to actually realize their own complicity in supporting these stupid and retaliation-provoking policies.

Ridgerunner

January 11th, 2010
12:57 pm

Swede Atlanta:

I appreciate your reasoned debate but to me it’s simple. The dividing line is “citizenship” and “purpose”.

To try and keep this short, if you are a non-citizen and your purpose is war on the Unites States you have no rights. In fact, I believe if you are captured out of uniform you should be shot by military firing squad within 48 hours.

General Eisenhower did this to German troops captured out of uniform during the Battle of the Bulge. I realize it was not on U.S. soil but the principle is the same.

Scott

January 11th, 2010
1:01 pm

How do you feel about the reports that the attempted bomber was giving up all sorts of information until he realized he was being charged with the rights of an American citizen, at which point he “lawyered up” and shut up?

http://www.rightofanation.com

william

January 11th, 2010
1:33 pm

I surmise this is a ploy for the lawyers supporting the DNC to have a payback. How much per trial for murder? Expensive is it not? Why I think those lawyers and Bob Barr should do it pro bono? Save the tax payers millions.

Of course, the liberals do not know what is or what is not a war. I remember history telling us the Nazis and Japanese were sinking our ships and the liberal federal government would not tell the American people this was happening. We lost hundreds of ships and would not got to war. So how can a history like this convince me people like Bob Barr has any idea what he is talking about. How about the Nuremburg trails? Was that civilian or military and what is the difference?

neoCarlinist

January 11th, 2010
1:34 pm

Ridgerunner, you have to let go of the “Battle of the Bulge” comparison. Just because some political operative coined the phrase “war on terrorism” does not mean it is akin to WWII. The “enemy combatants” of which you speak were German soldiers whose were disguised as American soldiers. They were captured on the battlefield and subjected to “battlefield” justice. Were the caught on the American homeland, they would have been tried for espionage (in a Federal Court) and sentenced accordingly. ask Tim McVeigh, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and/or Ramsey Yousef (who was capture in Pakistan, extradited to the US for trial, convicted and sentenced to life, and is now at the SuperMax federal hootsgow in CO). counter-terrorism is a unique challenge and connot be compared to 20th century conventional warfare (tactics, strategies, objectives). the fact that you continue to present a “one size fits all” solution is perhaps the “terrorsts” greatest weapon.

Jim

January 11th, 2010
1:59 pm

I actually agree w/ Mr. Barr! Wow, what a day. My opinions on this are these :
a) Executing these folks within 48 hours is just ludicrous, silly ranting that makes martyrs of them.(Exactly what they want)
b) Putting them through our court system, will almost guarantee they go to jail for life. They hate that partially because they know that here, there will never be a trade for Israeli soldiers their friends may be holding. Previous convictions have held and the defendants didn’t get the chance to use the courthouse as a forum. If they tried, it was behind closed doors so no one heard it anyway.

Joan

January 11th, 2010
1:59 pm

Sure try this piece of dung in a federal court, but send our Navy Seals who captured a terrorist, and in the doing so, dinged him a bit, in Iran, where they are sure to get the same even handed justice we dispense.

deathportal

January 11th, 2010
2:01 pm

Either we’re a nation of laws or we’re not. If we do not abide by the Constitution, we are NOT a nation of valid laws. Why is it that we think our government officials should be exempt from abiding by the document they take an oath to uphold? Not only that, but why are we clamoring for a different set of rules to be applied to someone simply because they aren’t an American citizen? As if a murderer (and in my view, murder IS terrorism) born here is any different than a murder born elsewhere.

But then again, what do I know? I find “enhanced interrogation” (read: Torture) to be wrong, regardless of one’s reasoning for practicing it. It starts with the terrorists, and eventually, progresses to the American citizens themselves. How much power do you want the Government to have?