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Ex-prosecutors embrace courts for terror cases
Terror Courts DCSW1 5577406
New York lawyers Richard Zabel, left, and James Benjamin, Jr., right, take part in a news conference to discuss their report, "In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts", Wednesday, May 28, 2008, at the National Press Club in Washington. - photo by Associated Press
    WASHINGTON — A federal courtroom may be the proper place to dispense justice in the terrorism case of confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, two former federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
    Attorneys Richard Zabel and James Benjamin made the comments after examining 123 terrorism prosecutions and concluding that civilian courts are able to produce just, reliable results while protecting national security.
    Their examination, entitled ‘‘In Pursuit of Justice,’’ comes as Mohammed faces a military commission trial at Guantanamo Bay. He and four other defendants are scheduled for arraignment June 5.
    With less than eight months remaining in office, the Bush administration is still struggling to make its system of military commissions for top terror suspects fully operational. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the president authorized the military commission setup. It has faced repeated legal challenges and was overturned by the Supreme Court before its latest reincarnation.
    Civilian courts have ample tools and a proven track record in dealing with problems terrorism cases present, said Zabel and Benjamin, who worked with the nonprofit group Human Rights First to compile the study.
    Whether the case is the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 or the East African embassy bombings in 1998, judges, juries, defense attorneys and prosecutors are able to get the job done correctly, the study says.
    The indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay with military commission trials for a small number of detainees is a failure when compared to the record against terrorism in the civilian criminal justice system, said Michael Posner, president of Human Rights First.
    The study said that in courtrooms:
    —Prosecutors have used an array of law enforcement tools in the war on terrorism, from specially tailored anti-terrorism laws to generally applicable criminal laws.
    —The government has balanced defendants’ fair trial rights with the need to protect national security information by using the Classified Information Procedures Act, which lays out a system for accommodating both.
    —Federal sentencing laws prescribe severe sentences for many terrorism offenses and experience shows that terrorism defendants have generally been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
    Zabel and Benjamin are with the New York office of the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

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