- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

From a crime-and-justice standpoint, it’s a stupid move to try a terrorist in a civilian court of law. But that’s the plan, folks.

Ahmed Ghailani will be the first Guantanamo terror suspect to be brought here and tried in our civilian criminal court system. And that Mr. Ghailani will be tried in a New York court - a scant distance from his Muslim brothers’ most successful terror attack on America, the spot where our World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood - is lunacy.

This man is the poster child for the term “enemy combatant,” and those people are supposed to be tried by military tribunals. But we’ve gotten ourselves in a twist over this guy because we let him stew at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp too long. Because others like him are waiting in the wings, we had best get this right from the get-go.

Mr. Ghailani, declared a “high-value detainee” by the Pentagon, made his bones in the terror world years ago. Back in the ‘90s, prosecutors say, he helped plan and execute deadly bombings at two U.S. embassies. The August 1998 blasts in Kenya and Tanzania took the lives of more than 200 people. Thousands were injured by explosive debris.

Mr. Ghailani claimed innocence, saying with a shrug of his shoulders that he hadn’t known you could make a bomb if you mixed TNT and oxygen tanks. He denied buying a vehicle used in the attack, saying he doesn’t even know how to drive. Yeah, right.

Just before the embassy bombings, Mr. Ghailani flew to Pakistan, and that is where, U.S. prosecutors say, he entrenched himself in all things al Qaeda, working as a trainer in a terror recruitment camp, a document forger and a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden.

By charging this bin Laden buddy with only the 1998 embassy attacks and nothing directly connected to Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutors hope they’ll be able to sidestep pesky legal challenges about Mr. Ghailani’s lengthy detention and treatment. But who knows what Mr. Ghailani’s defense team will come up with?

That brings me to my primary point: What if this guy gets off after going through our civilian justice system? What if by some attorney trick or subterranean legal loophole, he’s acquitted? And, don’t tell me it couldn’t happen. It happens all the time. Confessed killers have walked free because they hired the right defense attorney at the right time. Are you ready for men like Mr. Ghailani to be free, walking the streets of America - or, worse yet, going back to his hole to plot against us again?

Look, I believe in our justice system. Everyone should have his or her day in court. But this is no common criminal. This is a soldier in the war on terror against us, a calculating mass murderer who, I’ll bet you, would scheme against and kill more Americans if given half a chance. More than six dozen of his former Guantanamo cellmates are reported by the Pentagon to have returned to their terror roots - why wouldn’t Mr. Ghailani if he found a way to wiggle free?

Forget political correctness. We need to admit openly that radical Islamist groups are infiltrating our institutions. They’re active on university campuses, and those who believe they are there simply to proselytize are fooling themselves. They’re looking to convert the impressionable. These radical Islamic extremists have been active for years inside our prisons, converting the disenfranchised. The latest case in point: the four New York men arrested recently for plotting to bomb synagogues and shoot military planes out of the sky. Three of the four (or maybe all of them, reports vary) developed a deep interest in Islam while serving prison sentences on various drug, assault and weapons charges. The four came together at a local mosque in Newburgh, N.Y.

Let’s take the best-case scenario in the upcoming Ghailani trial. Let’s say he’s convicted, probably put away for the rest of his life. That means he’ll go to a U.S. prison, where he will be able to spread his hatred for America among those already predisposed to despise the system that put them there. When they get out, they’ll take that hatred to our streets.

It is time to get our act together on just how and when military tribunals will be used for the trials of Guantanamo prisoners. The only other option is our civilian court system and that’s unacceptable on so many levels.

Picture the post-verdict press conference if it doesn’t go the prosecutor’s way.

Reporter: “Mr. Ghailani, you’ve just been acquitted; what will you do next?

Mr. Ghailani: “Well, I’m going to fly home to be with my comrades. But first, I’m going to spend some time at Ground Zero.” (Big smile, fade to black.)

Diane Dimond is a nationally syndicated columnist. Visit her Web site at www.dianedimond.com for investigative reporting, polls and more.

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