On Friday morning in downtown Manhattan, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law appeared in a federal courtroom to be charged with conspiring to kill Americans. In a sober, orderly proceeding that lasted a total of 17 minutes, Judge Lewis Kaplan explained to Suleiman Abu Ghaith his rights, appointed his defense lawyers, read the charges against him, recorded his plea of “not guilty,” ordered the prisoner’s continued detention and announced that he would set a trial date for the case in 30 days.
Prosecutors have already turned over the bulk of their unclassified evidence against the defendant. Abu Ghaith, who was transferred to New York from Jordan on March 3, is reportedly cooperating with federal authorities and providing important information about al Qaeda.
It was, in others words, an ordinary, orderly federal court arraignment in an international terrorism case. Almost 500 such defendants have been convicted in U.S. federal courts on U.S. soil since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
But if senators like John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) had their way, it never would have happened. Instead, observers would likely have been treated years hence to something like what we saw in Guantanamo Bay with the case of the five alleged September 11 co-conspirators: a 13-hour fiasco at which the defendants alternately ignored and yelled at the judge, prayed on the floor, refused to enter a plea and threatened to commit suicide.
On Friday, Graham, Ayotte and McCain issued a public statement saying they were “disturbed” that the Obama administration brought “a foreign member of al Qaeda” to court in New York rather than to a military commission in Guantanamo Bay, saying it “makes our nation less safe.”