The American Bar Association supports the Bush
Administration's call to bring to justice all terrorists, those
individuals who have aided the terrorists, and those individuals who
harbor them. Additionally, the American Bar Association believes that
terrorists tried in military tribunals should be brought to justice
the American way.
At our recent Midyear Meeting in Philadelphia,
the association's House of Delegates voted without dissent to
support the call of President Bush to bring to justice the
perpetrators of global terrorism and those who harbor them or give
them aid. We continue to stand firm in our resolve that all involved
in the atrocities of Sept. 11 be brought to justice.
But we need to do it in a way that respects core
American values of due process and fundamental fairness - principles
that have governed our justice system since its founding. To do any
less would deprecate our Constitution and the memory of those who
perished on and after the morning of Sept. 11. Those principles that
have defined the rule of law offer guidance in the context of military
tribunals, a mechanism with which we have limited national experience
and one over which both Congress and the administration are laboring.
The ABA determined, and actions by administration
officials suggest they also have concluded, that military tribunals
should be used only in limited circumstances, for trials of people
accused of violating the law of war, who are not U.S. citizens or
The ABA also believes that military tribunals
should not be used to try persons lawfully present in
the United States. Only by judicious use of military tribunals
can we demonstrate to the world that we adhere to the same standards
we have demanded that other nations follow. In so doing, we maintain
our credible right to insist on such protections for our own citizens
facing trials in other parts of the world.
When military tribunals are used, they must
accord minimum due process, a defining principle of our democracy that
we extend to the most unpopular persons accused of the most despicable
crimes. It is both our strength and our greatest weapon to protect and
preserve our freedom and our democracy.
The legal principles the ABA espouses are very
familiar to Americans. Those principles are that people should not be
detained indefinitely without trial; that detainees are presumed
innocent until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and that
people who are accused have a right to confront their accusers and
cross examine witnesses, and should not be forced to incriminate
Additionally, the American way assures an
independent and impartial trier of fact, unanimous verdicts in capital
cases, and a right to request appellate review.
Our core principles reaffirm the right to
representation by counsel of choice, prompt and understandable notice
of the charges, adequate resources to prepare a defense, and
proceedings that are open to the public and press, or trial observers
with appropriate security clearance, as available, if security
requires closed trials.
These principles have served our nation well.
Equally as important, they have not interfered with the successful
prosecution of terrorists in the past, including those charged with
bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 and the terrorism of Timothy
McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
There were those who asked us to delay making
this decision. But delay would have meant abdication. Under the
ABA's own constitution, we meet to adopt policy only twice a year;
our next opportunity to stand up for these crucial principles would
not have been until next August.
Our government's leaders have given every
indication that they intend to implement regulations governing trials
before military tribunals in the very near future. Indeed, two bills
regarding military tribunals recently were filed in the Senate. We
understood our government's need to move quickly, and thus we also
moved quickly in order to assist those formulating the regulations.
The September terrorist attack was an attack on
the core values of this country. Those who have died in this war on
terrorism died in defense of American ideals. We owe their memories
adherence to those sacred ideals which make our country great.