When Osama bin Laden's son-in-law was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists Wednesday, he joined a long list of terrorists brought to justice in civilian courts.
There were obvious security concerns with such a high-profile terrorism trial held practically within sight of Ground Zero in densely populated lower Manhattan. But like hundreds of terrorism prosecutions on U.S. soil since 9/11, the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith ended uneventfully, demonstrating that the federal courts are a safe and effective venue.
Abu Ghaith was a fiery al-Qaida spokesman irrevocably linked to bin Laden when the two appeared together in an infamous video on Sept. 12, 2001, making a case for jihad. Abu Ghaith insisted during his trial that he was a reluctant recruit with no choice but to comply when bin Laden summoned him to his mountain camp in Afghanistan on 9/11 and insisted he deliver al-Qaida's message to the world. But the Kuwaiti religious scholar regularly used his oratory to recruit terrorists and eventually married one of bin Laden's daughters.
His trial was fraught with security concerns similar to those that thwarted Attorney General Eric Holder's 2009 plan to bring the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid SheikhMohammed, from Guantanmo Bay to stand trial in Manhattan.
But nearly 500 people have been convicted of terrorism charges in civilian criminal courts since 9/11, according to Human Rights First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization. In fact, Abu Gaith was the highest-ranking al-Qaida figure to face trial on U.S. soil since those attacks. During that same time only a handful have been convicted in military commissions. Civilian courts are the right place to bring terrorists to justice.