Wartime courts could try terrorism cases

The way we prosecute terrorism needs an overhaul if we want to keep pace with global changes.

Jasper Johnson

Currently, the United States prosecutes terrorism through a mix of federal and military courts. I believe the strangeness of this procedure demands we either create a new system for trying accused terrorists or else overhaul the one we have now.
 
 
The issue is an urgent one. In the Twin Cities, attorneys for five men accused of trying to join ISIS recently made a bizarre move — they said the men should have “combatant immunity.” The attorneys argued that ISIS constitutes an “entity” with a traditional military force and that this legitimacy should somehow partially shield the men
who allegedly tried to join the organization.
 
 
Such claims prey on the chaos of terrorism prosecution. It’s absolutely shameful to argue for ISIS’s legitimacy as a state or to insist this should legally shield any of its attempted members. 
 
 
However, I won’t waste time debunking the fatuous claim that ISIS military tactics are “traditional.” Rather, I’ll just say the misguided arguments of the Twin Cities attorneys are one example of the many clumsy ways the current judicial system handles terrorism cases. 
 
 
One problem lies in the fact that the U.S. doesn’t prosecute these cases in a uniform way — some of them fall under military court jurisdiction, others under that of federal civilian courts. 
 
 
The actual legality behind the capture and detainment of suspects is questionable, too. Guantanamo Bay detainments and the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of al-Qaida members both provide examples of this. 
 
 
By now, therefore, it’s long overdue for us to establish more international and national courts specifically for terrorism prosecution. Such an action would allow for more international cooperation on anti-terror measures. Furthermore, establishing specific courts for international terrorism accusations would allow for more efficient prosecution, as well as more consistency and transparency in sentencing procedures. 
 
 
As evidence of the current deficiency of our military courts, federal civilian courts tend to do a much better job of handling terrorism cases. They have successfully convicted many more accused terrorists, and they can also bring up more versatile charges to convict the accused compared to the relatively limited scope of military courts’ abilities. 
 
 
I recognize, however, that much of the support for federal civilian court prosecution might result from anti-Guantanamo backlash. Accordingly, it’s true that we should take claims for the superiority of federal civilian courts with a grain of salt.
 
 
Establishing specific courts for terrorism ought to be a nonpartisan issue, though. Surely, everybody can agree that transparent and effective prosecution is a beneficial thing. 
 
 
Ultimately, while federal courts have done a fair job of prosecuting terrorism, it still seems to me that neither military nor federal courts were designed to handle cases of international terrorism. It would be prudent to establish a specialty terrorism court as an offshoot or collaboration between military and federal courts. 
 
 
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].