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October 31, 2008

Guantanamo Talking Points

Going home for the Thanksgiving holidays? What will you do when your nutty uncle starts reciting Dick Cheney's talking points around trials for Guantánamo detainees? You could just keep quiet. Or you can offer your uncle some short and pithy facts about why it is important to try detainees in federal courts.

He says/You say

Your uncle says: "These terrorists don't deserve fair trials! We are at war."

Reality check: Terrorists want to be seen as warriors but they’re not – they are criminals. Holding fair and open trials in federal courts will ensure that justice is served – nearly 500 international terrorists have been convicted in federal courts since September 11th, compared to just 7 in military commissions.

Your uncle says: "Federal courts can't handle classified information – trials will leak information that endangers our lives!"

Reality check: There is a mechanism that provides judges with powers to balance the defendant's right to a fair trial with the need to protect sensitive evidence that could endanger national security if disclosed. It's called the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) and has been used to great effect in the past.

Your uncle says: "What, are we going to start reading terrorists their rights on the battlefield?? That's ridiculous!"

Reality check: The Miranda requirement does not prevent intelligence professionals from interrogating prisoners.

Your uncle says: "These terrorists are going to run loose in our neighborhoods! Look at your 5-yr old cousin over there playing peacefully – do you want his school to be bombed? I don't. Those terrorists need to stay in Guantanamo, away from our kids!" R

Reality check: Terrorists will NOT be released into your neighborhood. A federal prison is perfectly capable of incarcerating those convicted – even the American Correctional Association says so in a recent resolution: "public safety would be secure and that there would be no danger or imminent threat to the American people" should detainees be brought to prisons in the United States. No one has ever escaped a Supermax prison and no convicted terrorist has ever escaped a U.S. federal prison. And if a detainee were found not guilty in a court, he would be put into immigration proceedings.