Editorial: A win for justice system

The United States has long been a powerful world symbol of hope, freedom and justice. All of those elements came into play when Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was put on trial in a federal courtroom in New York.

His trial stands in stark contrast to the continued operation of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were terrorist detainees are held in limbo and where secrecy, rather than openness, is the rule.

From the use of torture to the indefinite holding of these prisoners, deemed “enemy combatants,” the use of Guantanamo Bay prison has been a black mark on America’s reputation. For years, those opposed to its closing have argued that federal prisons would be unable to safely hold its inmates and that civilian courts weren’t the place to put these terror suspects on trial. “Too dangerous” has been the cry when such a shift has been suggested.

Perhaps the question really should have been whether the “too dangerous” claim was just an excuse for those who didn’t want to set limits to our “counterterrorism policies,” or who wished to give the Obama administration a black eye for its failure to close the base.

Abu Ghaith’s trial shows that those fears, including the strict limits on prisoner transfers imposed by Congress in 2010, are unjustified.

It took three weeks for the prosecution and defense to make their cases on whether al-Qaida’s chief spokesman after 9/11 conspired to continue to do harm against America. It was up to jurors to decide whether Abu Ghaith was, as Assistant United States Attorney John Cronan said in closing arguments, “... bin Laden’s principal messenger ...” whose “... purpose was to strengthen al-Qaida and solidify its future.”

Or was Abu Ghaith’s argument in his own defense that his motivation was religious when he called on all Muslims to rise up against their oppressors a legitimate exercise of his First Amendment rights?

In the end it took the jurors just six hours to hand up a guilty verdict. Abu Ghaith is scheduled for sentencing in September.

Does this mean that convictions would be the rule if the cases involving Guantanamo detainees were similarly tried here? No, especially if the evidence proved otherwise or the prosecution didn’t make its case. Whichever way it went, though, it would be showing the world that the U.S. was unafraid to put the fairness of our justice system before the world.

What this latest trial proves is that our courts are perfectly capable of handling such terror suspects — in fact, more than 500 such suspects have been convicted in federal courts on terrorism-related charges since 9/11. They also are imprisoned here in the country and not one has escaped.

Letting our justice system and Constitution work is the American way — not what we have been doing at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

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