April 22, 2010
Vladek on Abu Ali LitigationStephen I. Vladeck (American University - Washington College of Law) has posted Terrorism Trials and the Article III Courts after Abu Ali (Texas Law Review, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although these arguments are not new, they do raise fundamental questions about whether the civilian courts are able effectively to function in certain high-profile terrorism cases and to balance the rights of the defendants with the very real practical, logistical, and substantive difficulties that such prosecutions tend to raise. And while any number of groups have attempted to answer these questions at the macro level, there have been few concerted studies of individual trials. This symposium article attempts a different approach, focusing on the specific procedural and evidentiary issues confronted in one of the more legally significant of the post-September 11 criminal prosecutions completed as of this Article - the trial of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
As this article suggests, Abu Ali is a microcosm both of the unique difficulties these cases present and the ways in which such issues have generally been resolved by federal trial judges exercising creativity and flexibility. Moreover, Abu Ali provides particular proof of the extent to which advancements in courtroom technology may well mitigate at least some of the practical obstacles that courts face in transnational terrorism cases. Finally, whatever difficulties Abu Ali may have presented for the civilian criminal justice system, it is not at all clear why the same difficulties wouldn’t also be present had Abu Ali been tried in a military commission. The claimed errors at trial that were analyzed by the Fourth Circuit were all constitutionally grounded, and there is little in the way of precedent for the proposition that either the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination or the Sixth Amendment’s right to confrontation have less force before a military tribunal - especially where the defendant is a U.S. citizen.
To be sure, like this Article’s conclusions, its aim is modest. There are a host of reasons why it would be wrong to draw sweeping lessons from the story of one particular case, no matter how significant that one case may be. In addition, even an assessment just of the Abu Ali litigation is lacking for any appreciation of the myriad problems that government or defense counsel likely encountered behind the scenes; the story told here is one reconstructed entirely from the public record, a record that could also be read with a far more skeptical eye. Nevertheless, my hope is that a candid discussion of the Abu Ali litigation - including its triumphs and its shortcomings - will add meaningful substantive content to a conversation that, for the moment, seems awash in unsubstantiated (and largely partisan) rhetoric.
April 22, 2010 | Permalink