2008 / 179 pp
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“In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts is a stunning compilation of the record of trying and prosecuting jihadist terrorism cases in the federal criminal justice system over the past two decades. In Pursuit of Justice will become an indispensable toolÑnot only for participants in such cases but for policymakers confronted with proposals to create new national security courts in response to claims that the existing federal courts cannot adequately handle terrorism cases.
The authors meticulously detail well over 100 successfully completed terrorism cases. They canvass the adequacy of existing laws as bases for prosecution, grounds for arrest and detention, and evidentiary structures for protecting security information, while keeping faith with due process. In the end they make a compelling case for the adaptability and competency of our federal courts to handle the significant challenges that the post 9/11 world has brought to their doors.”
— Patricia M. Wald, Former Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
“Since 9/11, too many have claimed that America’s criminal justice system cannot handle international terrorism cases, leading them to urge military commissions, secret terror courts, or preventive detention as necessary alternatives.This indispensable study, drawn directly from the experience of federal prosecutors and judges who have handled terrorism cases, demolishes that myth. It proves that we need not reinvent the wheel: the federal criminal courts have been successfully adapted to handle the most important and challenging terrorism cases, and without sacrificing either national security or due process.”
— Harold Hongju Koh, Dean and Smith Professor of International Law, Yale Law School, and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
In recent years, there has been much controversy about the proper forum in which to prosecute and punish suspected terrorists. Some have endorsed aggressive use of military commissions; others have proposed an entirely new ‘national security court’. However, as the nation strives for a vigorous and effective response to terrorism, we should not lose sight of the important tools that are already at our disposal, nor should we forget the costs and risks of seeking to break new ground by departing from established institutions and practices. As this White Paper shows, the existing criminal justice system has proved successful at handling a large number of important and challenging terrorism prosecutions over the past fifteen years without sacrificing national security interests, rigorous standards of fairness and due process, or just punishment for those guilty of terrorism-related crimes.
We have analyzed the actual experience of more than 100 cases brought in federal court that involve terrorism that is associated organizationally, financially, or ideologically with self-described jihadist or Islamist extremist terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Based on our review of that data and our other research and analysis, we have found that the justice system has capably handled these cases, and continues to evolve to meet the challenge terrorism cases pose. This is not to say that the civilian criminal justice system, by itself, is the answer to the problem of terrorism far from it. However, as we move forward, we should confidently and judiciously make use of the criminal justice system an existing and valuable resource that reflects many of the best aspects of our legal and cultural traditionsÑas one of the important tools in the campaign to eradicate international terrorism.
Richard B. Zabel and James J. Benjamin, Jr.