The United States vs. Osama bin Laden, et al
Assuming they are not killed or captured first, the smart thing for Osama bin Laden and his henchmen to do is slip out of Afghanistan (difficult), slip into the United States (easy), surrender and throw themselves on the tender mercies of our civil courts.
Venue will be the first issue. Is there any venue in America where the crimes of 9/11 are unknown? Jury selection will be a problem. Can 12 brain-dead people be found who are unaware of what happened on 9/11? Oops. I forgot Oregon. The defense lawyers should ask for a change of venue to those Oregon towns that are refusing to aid in the 9/11 investigation.
But, Oregon nor not, the blame-America-first crowd, the media Lefties and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will make sure that the trials of Osama bin Laden and crew will make the O.J. trials look like high school plays.
Bin Laden and Omar will not be tried alone. America will be placed on trial as well. Every fault and foible of our always less than perfect form of government and our way of life will be held up for ridicule. Who will step up to tell how our unique combination of freedom and capitalism have made us the envy of the world? Who will explain that America is where the world’s millions want to come to start a new life with freedom and opportunity? It sure won’t be CNN or any of the media outlets that won’t let their on-air people display the American Flag. For that, watch The Fox News Channel.
But what if bin Laden et al are captured abroad? Well, in a perfect world, they would be taken inside a secure U.S. military installation or placed on board a large U.S. Navy vessel where they would be afforded the same care and creature comforts as any American GI getting ready to be tried under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
They would be afforded the presumption of innocence and allowed to have competent legal counsel. They would be presented with the charges against them and given adequate time to prepare their defense.
The convening authority would probably the four-star general or admiral in whose area of command they were captured. He or she would probably appoint a three-star to sit as president of a general courts-martial. The other six members of the panel (jury, if you will) would be in the rank of colonel and above. And, it is a good bet that everyone on the panel, with the exception of the president, will be lawyers selected from the Judge Advocate General Corps.
At the end of each day’s proceedings, a military press officer would conduct a briefing for the media at which the reporters will scream bloody murder because they are excluded from turning the trials into an advertising-revenue-raising media circus. There would be no TV, no sketch artists. In fact, the convening authority would be well advised not to allow a video recording of the proceedings because our courts would be tied up forever with law suits trying to force access to that video.
If the prosecution cannot carry the burden of proof to overcome the presumption of innocence, the defendants will be found innocent and set free. If they are found guilty, the trial record will be sent to the convening authority for review. If the verdict stands, the defendants can file a writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. Supreme Court which can either uphold the verdict or remand the matter for a new trial. If the verdict is upheld, the defendants will be punished for their crimes.
But this is not a perfect world. Apparently, Democrat Senators Patrick Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who think the UCMJ is okay for our GIs but not good enough for bin Laden and friends, want them tried in Portland, Oregon.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about terrorism in America.
©2001. William Hamilton