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Don't Try Bin Laden in the U.S. Court System

November 21, 2001

Re "Bring Him to Justice in the U.S.," Commentary, Nov. 19: Alan Dershowitz's column makes more good arguments against bringing Osama bin Laden to the U.S. for trial than it does to support the idea. Do the words "dream team" and "O.J. trial" come to mind?

Lois Tannenbaum

West Hills

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Dershowitz's argument for trying terrorist war criminals in a U.S. court falls short of convincing on two counts. First, I don't believe that the rules of evidence currently followed in the U.S. courts would admit much of the evidence gathered on foreign soil under wartime conditions. Many techniques and technologies used by intelligence-gathering forces are not legal here. Things like theft of information, breaking and entry, bribery and threats to informants and other covert practices and the absence of search warrants might render much of the evidence inadmissible in U.S. courts. The two analogies Dershowitz cites seem inappropriate because most, if not all, of those investigations were conducted on U.S. soil under our legal rules and guidelines.

Second, he seems to dismiss the impact of a not-guilty verdict as if he were invoking Grantland Rice's observation, "not that you won or lost but how you played the game." I don't think the American people will tolerate a loss in this particular case. A military court is an appropriate place to try war criminals.

Donald J. Prado

Valencia

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Dershowitz fails to address the single major reason for military trials of the enemy: national security. As Dershowitz knows, the defendant is given the opportunity to see all the evidence the prosecution plans to use. Spies and informants could then be called to testify in court, thus blowing their covers and endangering their lives (and hindering recruitment of other informants). Methods of electronic surveillance would need to be revealed in open court, including any decryption techniques.

Revealing such secrets would be a far greater victory for our enemies than any conviction obtained, even of Bin Laden himself. Enemy possession of national secrets such as informant recruitment techniques, electronic surveillance, cryptography and satellite imagery would greatly enhance their ability to evade our defenses, opening the door for even worse attacks than those experienced Sept. 11.

Alex Kirk

Allen, Texas

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