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Should terrorists be tried in civilian or military courts?Many terrorists captured by...

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:35 PM via web

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Should terrorists be tried in civilian or military courts?

Many terrorists captured by the United States are being tried in civilian rather than military courts. Republicans argue that terrorists are "enemy combatants" and thus should be treated as war criminals. However, Democrats point out that civilian courts have hundreds of convictions for terrorism, convictions which place those dangerous individuals behind bars. Military tribunals, they argue, have produced just three convictions. In which court system should indicted terrorists be tried?

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shake99 | Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted August 7, 2012 at 2:21 AM (Answer #2)

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Terrorists should be tried in military courts when it can be shown that they are part of a terrorist organization that is trying to achieve a military end by their actions. If it is just one person acting on their own then it should be civilian jurisdiction.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:18 PM (Answer #3)

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Military tribunals are designed for use in wartime--in a declared war against another power--and are comprised of a governing body of military officers who have an inquisitional role and function as judge and jury. Now, I can see the value of this on the battlefield when prisoners are caught and are known to have committed some war crime or extremely heinous act of war. However, terrorism is not the function of a declared war between two powers.

A military tribunal, by definition and by Constitutional principle, can have no power or jurisdiction over terrorist acts that occur outside of a declared war. The very nature of terrorism--again, by definition--is random, para-authorized acts of violence against an enemy in an extramilitary environment and setting and milieu. Therefore it seems clear that logic and Constitutional principle dictate trial by civil court. Opinion may differ, but it is true that often times opinion has no fact backing it up, as we saw with several Congressional opinion driven decisions following 9-11.


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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 30, 2012 at 2:28 AM (Answer #4)

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Terrorists come in different varieties.  The trial should match the terrorist.  I suppose you could say that domestic terrorists should be tried in domestic courts, and terrorists that actually are soldiers from some organization or government should be tried in military courts.

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