Feingold: Sept. 11 Prosecutions Will Advance Justice and American World Standing

The decision to prosecute five people accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in federal court in New York drew support Friday from US Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in comments at a one-hour discussion at Marquette University Law School.

“That’s the way to go,” said Feingold, who has been highly critical of the long confinement, without trial, of the suspects at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the same time, US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced that several other suspected terrorists will be tried in military courts. That group includes Ad Al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned another major attack, the bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000 in Yemen.

The decisions to go the two different routes in the cases will provide an interesting opportunity to compare civil and military handling of cases of this kind, Feingold told Mike Gousha, who moderated the session and who is a distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School.

Feingold said bringing the Sept. 11 suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, who has claimed he masterminded the attacks, into civil courts and allowing the justice system to proceed to a verdict on their cases is the appropriate course, said Feingold, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. “This advances not only our legal system, but our credibility in the world,” he said.

Feingold said that he is an opponent of the death penalty, but, “If there is a place where the death penalty should be administered, it is probably this case.” The bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and lethal crash of a commercial flight in Pennsylvania killed almost 3,000 people.

Feingold praised President Barack Obama for the way he is handling decisions about the future of military involvement in Afghanistan. Feingold said Obama was right to take his time and to consider all options, including a plan for phased withdrawal that Feingold has advocated. Several months ago, Feingold became the first senator to back such a plan. But he said Obama appears to be taking the possibility seriously.

“Why is it we are continuing this huge land war in Afghanistan?” he asked. “It doesn’t add up.” He said al-Qaeda has moved its bases out of Afghanistan and he does not think an end to American military involvement would mean a return of al-Qaeda power in the country.

Addressing other subjects, Feingold said:

  • He hopes a health care plan can be passed by Congress by the end of January, but it is “impossible” that action will be completed this year. He emphasized his support for a “public option” in a health care plan, a system in which a government-run plan would provide insurance to some people. He said, “It would be very hard for me” to support a bill that did not include such an option.
  • If Chief Justice John Roberts comes down strongly in favor of overturning a 1990 decision (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce), “it will be one of the greatest lawless acts by a chief justice in the past 100 years.” A decision is expected soon in a case (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that has become a broad review by the court of federal election laws, including the Austin decision, in which the court ruled 6-3 that it was constitutional to prevent corporations from spending their own money on political campaigns. Feingold said that during confirmation hearings in 2005, Roberts said he would be an umpire calling balls and strikes and would not make law himself. Feingold voted to confirm Roberts, drawing the ire of many liberals. Asked after his talk whether he would regret supporting Roberts if Roberts votes to overturn Austin, Feingold said such a step might give him “a moment of significant regret.” But he said that would depend not only how Roberts votes, but what he writes in support of his vote.
  • A two-year program of tax credits to companies who create jobs or increase employees’ hours could create several million jobs and help the economy nationwide. Feingold said he saw a major part of his role in dealing with economic issues as advocating for such a plan.
  • Immigration reform is an urgent issue, but he does not see federal action coming until “maybe late next year.”
  • Development of a five- to seven-year plan to bring down the federal deficit is both responsible and necessary for economic recovery. Feingold said the deficit “is almost an obsession of mine in the Senate,” and he sometimes finds himself voting with the most conservative Republicans because of the need to exercise more restraint on federal spending.

Feingold ducked commenting on one major Wisconsin issue. Asked whether he had a position on a proposed transfer of power over Milwaukee Public Schools to Milwaukee’s mayor, he said that it isn’t a federal issue and he isn’t going to get involved.

He also said he wasn’t making an endorsement in a potential Democratic primary for governor in 2010, but “I think the world of Tom” Barrett. Milwaukee’s mayor is expected to announce whether he is running for governor in the next several days. “I would have no hesitation supporting Mayor Barrett for any office he wants to run for, other than running against me in a primary,” Feingold said.

Feingold’s visit to the Law School was part of the “On the Issues” series led by Gousha. About 150 people attended the session.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Bruce Thomas

    “A two-year program of tax credits to companies who create jobs or increase employees’ hours could create several million jobs and help the economy nationwide.”

    This idea will not help create jobs, but will give the Democrats some political cover as unemployment reaches 10.5 per cent by January.

  2. David R. Papke

    I agree with Senator Feingold that it a good idea to try the five alleged terrorists in federal court. However, I think he overestimates how favorably this will be received in the rest of the world. Leaders of many Muslim countries, in particular, perceive our courts as biased and will not accord great respect to whatever the federal court decides. Indeed, how much confidence do Americans themselves have in their courts? According to a ten-year-old American Bar Association survey, 47% of those surveyed think that courts are ethnically and racially biased and a whopping 90% think the affluent and corporations have an unfair advantage in court.

  3. Bruce Thomas

    Published on DickMorris.com on November 14, 2009

    President Obama’s decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in New York City along with four others accused of helping destroy the World Trade Center and attack the Pentagon on 9-11 paints a bulls-eye for terrorists right on New York City, their favorite target. Now Obama has identified where the terrorists should focus their energies – on New York City.

    His decision to bow to political correctness and not to try Mohammed at a secure military base and to try him in a civilian court, according him all the rights of an American citizen, raises important questions:

    Most importantly, is the admissible evidence against Mohammed damning enough to secure a conviction? The evidentiary requirements protecting an American citizen on trial are far stricter than those which would apply to an enemy combatant before a military tribunal. We already watched how the twentieth hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui escaped the death penalty because the evidence the government could use against him in a civilian criminal court was limited by his civil liberties. As a result, the data from his computer, which had not been seized pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, could not be entered into evidence against him. Failing such evidence, the feds had to settle for a life sentence.

    Since much of the evidence against Mohammed was gathered through interrogations before which he may not have been read his Miranda rights and during which he may have been water-boarded, one wonders how much of his statement that he was the mastermind of 9-11 is going to be admissible. It could be that he will use the very constitution of the very government he seeks to destroy to protect himself from the death penalty or even life in prison.

    The decision to try him in a civilian court also confronts the Department of Justice with a difficult decision on how much of the evidence against Mohammed should be aired publicly. Our anti-terror investigations depend on secrecy and the FBI and Homeland Security agents may not relish having their methods publicized in open court. There is even the possibility that there will be a global backlash in favor of Mohammed as his defense lawyer – paid for by the American taxpayer – will make him appear to be the victim of over-zealous investigators and prosecutors rather than the perpetrator of one of the greatest mass murders in history.

    In any event, President Obama is affording the terrorists exactly what they wanted in the first place – a global stage right near New York’s theater district. The very goal of terrorism is to attract world-wide attention and, by trying Mohammed in a civilian court in the middle of New York City, President Obama is giving them the stage they want on which to articulate their perceived grievances.

    Finally, there is the disturbing question of what will happen if Mohammed and/or his some of his confreres are found to be not guilty. Where will they be released? Will they walk out of the courtroom free to prowl the streets of New York, their transportation having been paid courtesy of the taxpayers? Will they be flown to Afghanistan to resume their plots against our government and our people, again at taxpayer expense?

    What Obama should have done was to try Mohammed before a military tribunal, without the full rights of an American citizen (which, of course, he is not) and, after a guilty verdict, executed him. But this president bows before political correctness above all else and he may just have done Mohammed and al Qaeda a big, big favor.

  4. Sean Samis

    I am happy to see these trials done in NYC in a civilian court. I believe Rule of Law does not weaken us, it is one of our strengths. If a civil society cannot try criminals like these in an open court, then terrorism has already won the war.

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