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U.S. Opinions: New York

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Congress, not Obama, forced civilian terror trial

From a Bloomberg editorial Monday:

As Sulaiman Abu Ghayth, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was pleading not guilty to charges of terrorist conspiracy in a federal court in New York, Republicans were accusing the Obama administration of going easy on terrorism.

“We should treat enemy combatants like the enemy – the U.S. court system is not the appropriate venue,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan. “The president needs to send any captured al-Qaida members to Guantanamo.”

Actually, the administration made the right call in a tough situation, which has been needlessly complicated by elected officials of both parties.

What were the options for handling Abu Ghayth, who was taken into custody Feb. 28 by U.S. officials in Jordan? Well, placing him into the military tribunal system at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a nonstarter for two reasons.

First, Abu Ghayth’s alleged offense, conspiring with al-Qaida members to harm American citizens, isn’t recognized internationally as a war crime. Recall that the conviction in a military tribunal of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as bin Laden’s chauffeur, was overturned by a federal court last year because the charge, “material support for terrorism,” wasn’t a recognized war crime at the time. Why step back into that trap?

If conspiracy is the best we can do with Abu Ghayth, civilian court is the venue to try him. In fact, civilian prosecutors favor a conspiracy charge because it is a broad blanket that doesn’t require linking the suspect to any individual plot.

Second, the stalemate between Obama and Congress over Guantanamo’s prison, which the president pledged to close in his first week in office, continues. Congress has made it impossible for the people held there to be brought to the U.S., and Obama refuses to allow any new suspects to be brought to Cuba.

Something has to give: Best would be for Congress to open a detainment center in the U.S. If not, Obama has to consider reopening Guantanamo to new inmates.

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