In a New York Times op-ed article today, Michael Kinsley argues that anybody caught within the United States for suspected terrorist acts should be tried in the U.S. civil courts. He wants a “bright line” for determining where any suspect should be tried – no matter where they came from to launch the attack or who directed and supported them. He concludes that “the nation’s border is as good a line as any.”
“We have nothing to be ashamed of, little to fear and much to be proud of in choosing to err on the side of treating captured foreign terrorists as we would treat any upstanding American who tried to blow up an airplane full of people.”
History is a much better guide for dealing with such matters than trying to draw artificial lines. FDR had no compunctions about putting German saboteurs who had landed in Amagansett, New York, and Ponte Verdra Beach, Florida before a military tribunal
The Germans had not gotten nearly as far along in carrying out their destructive mission as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had managed to do. And they were caught as a result of the defection of one of their own, not in the act of trying to bring down a plane with nearly 300 persons aboard. Yet FDR showed no hesitation in treating the German saboteurs as alien enemy combatants, rather than as criminal defendants entitled to a civil trial. He did not want to take any chances with a civilian trial where secrecy could not be guaranteed and legal technicalities could result in allowing the prisoners to go free. Instead, he established a military tribunal, the first to be convened in the United States since Lincoln’s day. The Supreme Court upheld the President’s authority to do so.
The trial took a month. In less than two months after the first group of saboteurs landed on our shores, six of the eight German agents were electrocuted.
That is how to deal with alien enemy combatants. President Obama should take heed.