News Release

Federal Courts Can Handle Terrorism Trials

Due Process, Transparency, and Appellate Review Protect America's Reputation for Justice

Washington, DC (November 17, 2010) – Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was convicted today in a federal district court for his role the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a minimum of 20 years. The jury acquitted Mr. Ghailani of more serious charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, for which there was scant evidence.

Commenting on the verdict, Jim E. Lavine, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, issued the following statement:

The trial took place in a constitutional court, under rules of evidence and laws that comport with traditional American justice and values, and is subject to constitutional review by federal appeals courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tonight's verdict again demonstrates that the federal courts are capable of trying defendants accused of terrorism charges. Despite public fears, more than 150 other terrorism cases alleging ties to Islamic extremism have been tried in federal courts in New York, Washington, Virginia, and other courthouses around the country without a single documented threat to public safety or security breach.

Military commissions may predictably provide convictions, but federal criminal courts provide more reliable convictions because they do not rely on secret evidence, hearsay, and coerced confessions. According to the Center on Law and Security, there have been more than 998 persons indicted by the Justice Department for terrorism-related charges since September 11, 2001.1 All these cases show that the federal court system can weigh the prosecution's case and reach an appropriate disposition. Guantanamo detainees can be safely tried in federal courts, consistent with the rule of law, and the government is capable of obtaining convictions fairly, transparently and without resort to evidence obtained through torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

1 Karen J. Greenberg, et al., Terrorist Trial Report Card: September 11, 2001-September 11, 2010, Center on Law and Security, New York University School of Law (2010).  

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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.