On Nov. 17, Ahmed Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to face a civilian trial, was acquitted on all but one of more than 280 criminal charges in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa – a mixed result that has reignited criticism over the Obama administration’s policy to try former Guantanamo detainees in civilian court, The Washington Post reports.
The administration’s critics are missing the point, Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith and Brookings Institution senior fellow Benjamin Wittes write in today’s Washington Post. In their op-ed “Ghailani verdict makes stronger case for military detentions,” Goldsmith and Wittes say that while the Ghailani verdict does not argue for military commissions over civilian trials, it does highlight the attraction of military detention without trial at all.
Goldsmith served as an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration and is the author of “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration.” Both Goldsmith and Wittes are members of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on National Security and Law.
By Benjamin Wittes and Jack Goldsmith
The Obama administration’s critics are missing the point on Ahmed Ghailani. Their reaction to his acquittal this week on 284 criminal counts and conviction on only one exaggerates both the vices of civilian courts and the virtues of military commissions. And it elides an important alternative to trial in either forum – military detention without trial – that today looks more attractive than ever as a means for incapacitating terrorists.
The decision by the Manhattan federal court jury Wednesday in the case of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa – the first federal court trial of a Guantanamo detainee – has triggered a predictable political backlash against President Obama. The prosecution was designed to showcase the feasibility of terrorist trials in civilian courts. Instead, it has turned into a near-miss that highlights the risks of those cases.