The Facts: Punishing Terrorists

It's not terribly easy to find straight facts on the punishment of terrorists -- most essays on the subject have distinct points of view. Here's a bit of background material to provide context for the debate:

Start with this quick Q&A from the Council on Foreign Relations on prosecuting terrorists in post-9/11 America. Next, skim this pre-9/11 overview of domestic terrorism and the legislative responses to it. This document details U.S. law relating to the death penalty, with specific references to how terrorism is treated as a capital offense.

Also influencing our laws on dealing with terrorists are the major conventions on terrorism and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. In the case Hamdi v Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court found that a detainee who is a U.S. citizen held on U.S. soil as an enemy combatant "should have a meaningful opportunity to offer evidence that he is not an enemy combatant."

Frequently confused with Hamdi is Hamdan v Rumsfeld -- the big case on military tribunals. For some background on the case, see this news story. The D.C. Circuit opinion found for the government, with now Chief Justice Roberts on the majority of that decision. (Note: Because he decided the case in the circuit court, he has recused himself in the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments at the end of March.)

Here's President Bush's order prescribing military tribunals to try terrorists. The Council on Foreign Relations offers this backgrounder on military tribunals -- it's two years old, but still useful -- and for a good look at both sides of the tribunal question, see BBC's analysis of the case for and the case against.

By Emily Messner |  April 10, 2006; 7:37 PM ET  | Category:  Facts
Previous: This Week's Debate: Punishing Terrorists | Next: Moussaoui: Dead or Alive?


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So do you see what you're saying? Punishing terrorists?

If it's a war on terrorism as the President and others maintain, then you vanquish the enemy and there isn't a question of punishment. But if it's a policing action, as maintained by Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 election campaign then apprehension and punishment is appropriate. So which is it? It can't be both; I'll wager, though, that some voices (well, keyboards, anyway) to assert that it's both.

We can argue about it, but in the end, it's one or the other, and I'll put my money on policing. We've got criminals, transgressing the rules of law and the respect of human life and rights, who must be brought to bay (as they used to say). And if they transgress international law, what courts should try them. What world and civilization are we trying to build? These are the questions underlying the propositions above.

If we cannot answer these questions within the context of our own Constitutional principles, we're going to start off down a road whose milestones and scenery may begin to look very unfamiliar before very long. All I'm saying is that our current administration has engaged the entire country in an action for which we did not have sufficient public national discussion in advance. True, members of Congress in both parties were hasty in their decisions of 2001-2002. Nevertheless, that the debate has come to us at last does not mean that we must continue in the mistaken beliefs that dragged us into temptation in the first instance. A proper, objective, reasoned analysis (particularly as it has been lacking in the past 4 years) is more than overdue.

Now here's the rub. It's government of the people, by the people, for the people. Lincoln's succinct notes in 1863 are still relevant to our purpose. We must hold to the fire the feet of all our representatives, legislative and executive. We are the ones to suffer their persistent indifference or ignorance. Our children, our hopes depend on our seeking truth and holding them to carry it out in law and action.

For by now it can be clear to all that we took off on an emotion-driven quest in 2001. We have acted as if we are a nation on a war footing while conducting business as usual elsewhere. Those in power are either ignorant of the truth - in which case they ought to be replaced by more responsible representation - or they are knowing of the facts and deliberately misrepresenting them to the people - in which case they ought to be replaced. Our government is failing us. But it is our duty to see to its remedy. And to the resolution of a foolishly entered conflict in a distant land of which we had and have too little knowledge to do real good.

Do you other readers and commenters realize the seriousness of our country's position? Will you bring and encourage the will to make things better? Our hope is only in ourselves, my friends. If we can only argue among ourselves, I fear we have little chance indeed. But if we have courage to admit mistakes, we can yet bring about the kind of transformation of spirit and direction for which our nation is most admired. Now is the moment for this change. This is the monumental task before us; let us not disappoint the faith of our forebears. As a people, people who know right, fairness, and justice we can let that knowledge guide us. Or we can continue to follow fools. Read Shakespeare's "King Lear" to see what happens then.

Posted by: Jazzman | April 10, 2006 11:17 PM

Wasn't this topic debated to death a few months ago?

Posted by: | April 10, 2006 11:37 PM

How about proposed use of tactical nuclear weapon targeting in Iran? Lot's of mumbling about that one lately. That would be a good to discuss.

Posted by: | April 10, 2006 11:40 PM

"then you vanquish the enemy and there isn't a question of punishment" -- this is very silly comment. Nuremburg showed trials AFTER the war; Vietnam had re-education and death camps for the S. Vietnamese pro-democracy "enemy" of the victors; Pinochet is in the process of going on trial; Charles Taylor of Liberia is about to be tried; Saddam is on trial.

Unfortunately, we don't have a legitimate international executive branch; nor legislative; nor judicial -- the UN is not legitimate because it's full of UN Human Rights violating countries (like China and Sudan).

It's war AND police, both.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad | April 11, 2006 03:30 AM

Let him that is without sin, cast the first stone [John chapter 8]. These are the words of Jess Christ, when the legalist/hypocrites of his time brought a woman taken in adultery to be stoned.

According to Jewish law, the woman was guilty of a capitol crime, punishable by stoning; keep in mind however, that the accusers failed to bring her accomplice, probably a friend of theirs.

I say to the United States of America's , the current leader being President #43, George Bush, that you would first have to punish yourselves for all of the murder and mayhem levied by the USA over the past half-century (with its secret spy and terrorist missions, euphemistically referred to now as anti-terrorism), before you could begin to think of punish someone else.

Shame on you the USA. For you have caught Moussaoui, but you excused his friend and accomplices, the number one terrorists and terrorist organization in the world, the United the United States of America. We practically invented modern terrorism.

We must pray for the hypocrisy of our nation, and its legal system.
God promised that he would both judge and punish all who disobey his will. We have been as guilty of terrorism, if not more than any other individual or nation!

Posted by: Rev. C. Solomon | April 11, 2006 01:50 PM

F**k you and your god "Rev." Go live in Iraq or Iran.

Posted by: Damn You | April 11, 2006 03:39 PM

Damn You:
Great response. You really showed your intelligence by how you countered Rev's arguments. The vast superiority of your side of the arguement is clear when one takes the few seconds to read how you masterfully showed him. Good one!

Posted by: Freedom | April 11, 2006 03:58 PM

Recently released Iraqi documents. Saddam targeted US assets for terrorism.

Posted by: NM | April 11, 2006 04:17 PM

There is a purpose and meaning to life.
There is a purpose and meaning to death.

The purpose of life is to learn.
The meaning of life is yet to be deciphered(learned).(It is unknown)

Do you see the distinction being made here?
Between purpose and meaning? (If you do not, you need not read further)

There is purpose and meaning to all things.
The purpose AND meaning to many things are not known. Questions illustrate this quite clearly.

What is life?
What is death?
What is truth?
What is justice?
What is right?
What is wrong?
What is religion?
What is belief?
What is faith?
What is sanity?
What is punishment?

What better way is there, to illustrate the purpose of life, than to ask questions?

Mz Emily Messner has embarked on a human endeavour. The human endeavour is called learning. It is the purpose of life. And the question being asked is:
Life or death? for Zacarias Moussaoui?

All of you (including Mz. Emily Messner)will be asked to call upon what you have learned and to give purpose and meaning to that question at hand.

Many have gone before you, to give you meaning and purpose to what you have learned. Have you ever questioned the meaning and purpose of what you have learned? Many have and many have not.

All of the illustrative questions above are incomplete. Many still have no purpose or meaning. Yet, all of you have given purpose AND meaning to the illustrative questions above. This is called judgement.

The judgement at hand will be incomplete too. Despite the learning efforts of others who have gone before you, Zacarias Moussaoui's judgement will be incomplete, no matter what outcome.

If we terminate the purpose of life (which is to learn)with death, will learning be halted? No. I do not know the meaning or purpose of death. I FEEL I should not give death (undefined in meaning and purpose)a meaning and purpose by absolving it's absolution. I am learning. It is the purpose of life.

Posted by: RR | April 11, 2006 04:44 PM

Hey, Damn you, relax, it's only another person's opinion no need to go balistic and treat him the way Fairfax County Police treat Optometrists who bet on Football.

Posted by: Freedom2 | April 11, 2006 08:06 PM

Good one, Freedom. I resent those trigger-happy bastards, I really do. But we digress. In my wiew, Mr.Moussaoui should
be disciplined in a good S&M dungeon by a strict but fair dominatrix. That's all. The man didn't murder anybody, did he? Unlike the member of the Fairfax County finest SWAP squad you're alluding to.

Posted by: Let him be, set him free, he's just like you and me | April 12, 2006 03:44 PM

We should treat terrorist the same way David J. Baucom, Fairfax County Undercover Detective does, we should lure them into the light so that Fairfax County SWAT Officer Deveal Bullock can shoot them. Then if asked Chief Rohrer of Fairfax County Police can act clueless and refuse to say anything, or District Attorney Robert Horan can say the terrorist was killed because somebody was tired from deer hunting. Either way we get rid of the terrorists.

Momma's don't let your babies grow up to be Doctors in Fairfax County.

Posted by: L. Berra | April 14, 2006 05:51 PM

Hey, leave David Baucoms name out of this, he works undercover for Fairfax Police, and besides he is not the dumbass who squeezed the trigger, that would be Deveal Bullock the highly qualified and well trained SWAT Officer who aimed center mass and killed the Optometrist. Good to know he can shoot straight, I guess it's unfortunate to know it was a Doctor, who was unarmed and totally compliant. Fairfax Police + DA Horan = CORRUPTION!!!!

Posted by: R. Maris | April 14, 2006 05:54 PM

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