Trying Terrorism Suspects in Article III Courts: The Lessons of United States v. Abu Ali

Stephen I. Vladeck A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas School of Law

August 3, 2010

ACS is pleased to distribute “Trying Terrorism Suspects in Article III Courts: The Lessons of United States v. Abu Ali,”an Issue Brief by Stephen I. Vladeck, Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law. This paper is being released amidst ongoing public debate about whether the federal court system should be used to try terrorism suspects, or whether the trials should be conducted by military commissions. In this Issue Brief, Professor Vladeck examines the suitability of the federal court system through the lens of a significant post-September 11, 2001, criminal prosecution – the trial of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali. The author discusses the innovative procedures that the court devised in order to deal with particular difficulties presented in the trial and, ultimately, Professor Vladeck concludes that the case “emerges as an unvarnished example of how the civilian justice system can handle high-profile criminal terrorism cases raising novel logistical challenges.” As the author states:

"If Abu Ali proves anything, it is that every case raises a unique set of practical, procedural, and substantive challenges. But perhaps it proves a bit more: where unique national security concerns are implicated, Abu Alisuggests that the courts will attempt to reach such accommodations that take into account both the government’s interest and the fundamental protections to which defendants are entitled, keeping in mind Justice Frankfurter’s age-old admonition that 'the safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people.' Abu Ali reminds us that sometimes, the law is set up properly to resolve the tension between the government’s interests and the defendant’s rights, even if reasonable minds could argue (in this area of the law, as in any other) that judges sometimes get it wrong."

Read the full Issue Brief here: Trying Terrorism Suspects in Article III Courts: The Lessons of United States v. Abu Ali