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News Section: National Government

U.S. House Approves Buchanan's Bill Requiring Tribunals for Terrorists

Published Wednesday, June 1, 2011 2:10 am
BRADENTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan’s (FL-13) legislation requiring foreign terrorists to be prosecuted in a military tribunal instead of civilian court passed the U.S. House last week 246-173. Introduced earlier this year as the “Military Tribunals for Terrorists Act,” it was adopted as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act.

“Today’s vote is a win for the security of the American people,” said Buchanan in a press release. “Foreign terrorists who attack our country should be treated as enemy combatants, not common criminals. Using military tribunals to prosecute and sentence foreign terrorists who conspire or attack the United States is the right policy.”

Under current law, the Justice Department may choose to prosecute foreign terrorists in civilian court, instead of a military tribunal. Buchanan’s amendment would eliminate that option. Military tribunals only require a majority vote to convict, not a unanimous verdict as required in civilian court. Sensitive intelligence data can also be protected from public release and terror suspects can be held indefinitely, as is the case with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been in custody for eight years.

Buchanan noted that last year, a civilian court jury in New York City found an al-Qaeda terrorist innocent on 279 of 280 felony terrorism charges even though his bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa killed 224 people and wounded thousands more. He says that prosecutors were restricted from bringing full evidence to bear in the trial, a limitation that would not exist in a military tribunal.

Last month, Buchanan commended the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Sheikh Mohammad in a military tribunal. Until then, Holder had said the Department of Justice would try Mohammad and four others in civilian courts.

“We can and must distinguish between how our federal government responds to terrorist attacks and burglars,” said Buchanan. “Military tribunals allow us to do just that.”

The bill now moves to the Senate where it is expected to be taken up as eraly as mid-June. The President has stated that he wishes to preserve the ability to choose the venue in which to try accused terrorists on a case by case basis, so a veto also remains a possibility.

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What happens when the government redefines burglary as a terroristic act? In 2001 computer hacking became a "terrorist offense." It stands to reason that anything could, in the future, be redefined as terrorism, eliminating the standard protections of our judicial system and subjecting the accused to indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus.

Three-strikes and minimum sentencing has been a miserable failure that has resulted in thousands of minor offenders getting massive (and expensive) sentences. Where to try is already at the government's discretion-- why should we tie their hands?
Posted by Matt Goff on June 1, 2011

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