Criminal Prosecutions of Suspected Terrorists

While President Bush claimed the authority to hold suspected terrorists seized in the United States without charge indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” only two such individuals were jailed by the military during his eight years in office.  Instead the Bush administration prosecuted all other suspected terrorists arrested in the United States in civilian criminal courts.  This included the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, an alleged al Qa’ida member who tried to blow up the airplane as he was traveling to the U.S. from abroad.  It also included the alleged “twentieth hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, first arrested in 2001.  Moussaoui admitted that he was part of al Qa'ida and intended to commit future terrorist acts, but maintained that he was not involved with the September 11th plot.  He was convicted in civilian criminal courts and is serving a life sentence.  CNSS filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit appeals court in November 2003 arguing that fundamental fairness prohibits the government from seeking the death penalty against someone while denying him access to witnesses in the government's control who would testify that he did not do what the government accuses him of doing.

For a definitive study of these cases see "In Pursuit of Justice," by Richard Zabel and James Benjamin, Human Rights First, May 2008, as well as their follow-up report.

President Obama continued the practice of trying suspected terrorists seized in the United States in criminal court and not holding them in military detention.  Nevertheless, since Obama's election, there have been unending attempts by Congress to prohibit such trials. 

For further information, see: