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Former Judges Speak Out on Overmilitarizing Counterterrorism Efforts

In an op-ed last Friday, three former federal judges criticized Congressional attempts to “overmilitarize” America’s counterterrorism efforts.

Former D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and AFJ Champion of Justice Honoree Abner Mikva, former District Court Judge for the Western District of Texas William Sessions, and former Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Gibbons argue that legislation pending in Congress undermines the fundamental role of our nation’s courts by giving the power of “judge, jury and jailer” to the U.S. military.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which has passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate, includes provisions that would codify the practice of indefinitely detaining terrorist suspects without charges. The bill would be applicable to anyone – even U.S. citizens – detained in anti-terrorist efforts anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil.

The group of judges emphasized the fact that the criminal justice system, rather than military commissions, is best equipped to handle terrorism cases, and has the most experience doing so. While civilian courts have the benefit of hundreds of terrorism-related trials, military commissions, such as the one at Guantanamo Bay, have handled few such trials and are plagued by constitutional problems. The judges concluded by calling on President Obama and Congress “to support a policy for detention and trial of suspected terrorists that is consistent with our Constitution and maintains the use of our traditional criminal justice system to combat terrorism.”

In monitoring our government’s counterterrorism programs, AFJ has sought to ensure that our most cherished constitutional freedoms are not sacrificed, and that those who made the decision to condone torture are held to account. Click here to learn more about our work for torture accountability.