Sen. Ayotte Prefers Ineffective Military Tribunals Because We "Don't Have To Worry" About Security Costs

July 07, 2011 4:42 pm ET — Alan Pyke

With news this week of a civilian trial for a suspected terrorist, Republicans were bound to rehash their gripes about the Obama administration's prosecution of the war against terrorists. As Political Correction has noted on numerous occasions, civilian trials are dramatically better than military commissions at actually punishing terrorists.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) dismissed that fact on Fox News this morning, claiming that "we can hold terrorists accountable" in military commissions at Guantánamo Bay better than we can in civilian court, but the only evidence she offered for the superiority of tribunals is that civilian trials are scary and expensive.

BILL HEMMER (host): What the administration argues is that civilian courts typically hand down a stiffer penalty upon judgment, and they also brag about a 100 percent conviction rate. Does that hold water with you?

AYOTTE: It doesn't hold water with me. My prior life before I came to the Senate is I was a murder prosecutor. One of the issues with civilian courts is this, is that Guantánamo is set up specially to protect classified information, and that at Guantánamo Bay we don't have to worry about the security or how much it costs to keep Americans secure. It is set up as a top-rate detention facility and a military commission trial can be had there and we can hold terrorists accountable there. We are at war with them, and that's where they should be tried. [...] There are many terrorists we could capture overseas and bringing them all to the United States of America puts the security of people here at stake, and that's wrong.


We can't hold terrorists accountable in military commission trials. It doesn't work. Military courts throw out evidence obtained through torture, just like civilian courts, but with weaker outcomes. While a military commission let Osama bin Laden's driver off with time served after failing to convict him on most counts, a civilian court put embassy bomber Ahmed Ghailani in a federal prison for the rest of his life despite acquitting him of all but one charge because torture made key evidence inadmissible. When it comes to putting terrorists in jail, civilian courts do a much better job than military ones.

Look closer at Ayotte's answer and her actual motivation is clear. After a token nod to the importance of protecting classified information, the bulk of Ayotte's praise for Guantánamo trials is that "we don't have to worry about the security or how much it costs to keep Americans secure." There is no mention of American values, no effort to address the conflict between our legal tradition and indefinite detention, torture, and the rest of the Bush legacy. Just fear mongering and penny pinching about "how much it costs to keep Americans secure." Our values are worth more than that.