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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-Ed: Public trials for terrorist criminals

Following the horrific events of Sept. 11, the United States has attempted to win over world opinion by labeling those events as a faceless attack on peace and all civilized people. We trumpeted military actions in Afghanistan as a defense of freedom from tyranny. American diplomats have worked tirelessly to build a coalition of Arab and Muslim partners in our war against terror. We told them this is not a war against Islam but a war against those who hijack that peaceful religion for their own dark purposes.

But recent American policy initiatives seem to contradict our noble statement. What are Muslim and Arab states to think when they see hundreds of Muslims and Arabs detained in the United States, their constitutional rights denied? What should they think about our new military tribunals? Is the United States scared of putting the accused on trial before the eyes of the world?

They want to see the proof, and we should show it to them. I am in favor of neither military tribunals nor ordinary criminal proceedings to prosecute suspected terrorists. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures. An ad hoc international tribunal under American auspices would be the best way to put these criminals on trial. We need look no further than the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, the Eichmann Trial or the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to see how to go about this task.

The accused should be afforded all the rights historically granted to war criminals. The trial should take place in as neutral a venue as possible, and the panel of judges, while including mostly Americans, should also be drawn from other countries. Most importantly the trial proceedings should be televised throughout the world.

The detractors of a public trial complain they do not want to hear “death to America” 10,000 times and other inflammatory anti-American remarks. Let Osama bin Laden and other war criminals speak. Their insulting and baseless remarks will expose their hatred and the true lack of wisdom in their beliefs. Allowing them to speak will only further discredit them as extremists without cause.

We characterize the war waged by terrorists as a war on all civilized people, and we do this not for purely symbolic or political purposes. In addition to the thousands of Americans, more then 100 British citizens and scores of other foreign nationals died in the Sept. 11 attacks. A dozen more Americans and hundreds of Kenyans and Tanzanians were killed in the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings in 1998.

When the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are apprehended, which some of them surely will be, they should answer for their deeds in an American-led international court of law. What better place for democracy and justice to triumph over fanaticism and terror than in open court? In times of great conflict we must embrace our democratic, fair and open traditions, not reject them. What are we afraid of?

-The writer, a member of the GW College Democrats, is a junior majoring in international affairs.

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