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Research Report

The Secrecy Problem in Terrorism Trials

  • Stephen J. Schulhofer
  • Serrin Turner
Published: June 7, 2005

The legal landscape of the Nation’s fight against terrorism remains unsettled. Remarkably, the questions still unanswered are where and how captured terrorism suspects should be brought to trial. The government presently lacks any clear or consistent policy. Shortly after the September 11th attacks, President Bush announced the creation of special new military commissions to be available to try certain non-citizens suspected of terrorism. The establishment of the new commissions was and continues to be contentious, yet they have not seen much use to date. The rollout of the commissions was bogged down for more than two years while the Department of Defense hammered out their rules and procedures behind closed doors. Four suspects held in Guantánamo, all non-U.S. citizens captured abroad, were eventually charged and have been brought before the commissions in initial, pre-trial sessions. But all commission proceedings have since been halted pending the outcome of litigation in the federal courts after a district court found that the commission’s rules violated military and international law.