We don’t need special anti-terrorist laws or to abandon civil liberties or the rule of law to try and convict would-be terrorists. The existing law works just fine, thank you.
Says who? How about U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour (a Reagan appointee, by the way), sentencing Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national, to 22 years for plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium:
Okay. Let me say a few things. First of all, it will come as no surprise to anybody that this sentencing is one that I have struggled with a great deal, more than any other sentencing that I’ve had in the 24 years I’ve been on the bench.
I’ve done my very best to arrive at a period of confinement that appropriately recognizes the severity of the intended offense, but also recognizes the practicalities of the parties’ positions before trial and the cooperation of Mr. Ressam, even though it did terminate prematurely.
The message I would hope to convey in today’s sentencing is twofold:
First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.
Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.
I would suggest that the message to the world from today’s sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.
Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.
Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel.
The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism.
Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.
It is my sworn duty, and as long as there is breath in my body I’ll perform it, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We will be in recess.
(Hat tip: PL on FOI-L)