Should terrorists be tried in civil courts?

This looks like a major departure from my standard blog content, but stick with me for a bit. As always, I’ll find my way back to God. And that’s easier than you might think on this one. This is not a political post per-se. Let’s dive in.

When you catch a terrorist, you have three basic options. Take him or her out right there on the spot, give them a military trial, or give them a civil trial. I’m not an expert on the many technicalities and procedural differences but they don’t really matter. It’s safe to say that a civil trial gives the terrorist the best opportunity to go free. And that’s exactly the option I am arguing in favor of in this post.

Why would I advocate for this? By definition, a terrorist is someone who abandons traditional combat between trained soldiers and murders innocent civilians in order to intimidate the remaining civilians into submission. They bomb public places, murder children, behead prisoners, all of which is often done on video for the world to see. And their goal is total submission and domination. Let’s not pussy-foot around this issue. We are talking about the most basic and pure form of evil here.

But here’s the deal. The point at which we decide that there is a threshold you can cross over in order to rise to the level of a different type of justice, our entire system of justice falls apart. Our criminal justice system is not perfect. But when you look at gross failures of justice, the cause is never a failure of our Constitutional principals themselves. It is invariably found in the failure to properly apply those principals.

I understand the arguments against me here. Terrorists, for the most part, are not citizens of the United States so we are not required to extend Constitutional protections to them. But the spirit of these principals is that they apply to everyone. Everyone. Aren’t we just getting off on a technicality here? The concepts were not implemented because they were good for legal citizens of our nation. They were implemented because they are right. And “right” doesn’t have borders.

There is an inescapable truth here. Applying a different standard or process for terrorists requires by its very nature to pre-determine the guilt of the accused. After all, if you are sure enough that this person was a terrorist to put them into a different category of justice, then why bother having a trial at all? You’ve already reached your conclusion. And that type of pre-judgment was precisely what we were trying to eliminate with the 4th and 5th amendments to the Constitution.

Ultimately, we want to be sure we put this terrorist away for good. Take no risks. But this position turns the entire process on its head because the only way we can take this position is if we’ve already determined guilt without the benefit of any trial at all. To me this all comes back to integrity. If we are going to respond those who attempt to destroy what we believe in, then we must do so by way of the very system they hate so much. There is ironic justice there, and it sends the right message to the rest of the world. Throw whatever you want at us. Our system is fair. Our system is true. And it applies to all.

Where does this find it’s way back to God? In a simple phrase: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” These words were spoken by a man who had nails through his hands and feet about the very men who drove those nails in. The message is clear. We have a responsibility to remove the ability of terrorists to repeat their evil deeds. This means imprisonment. But beyond that, our job is to love these terrorists. Yes. Love them. In exactly the same way that Christ forgave and loved those who nailed him to a cross, we are to forgive and love those who attack our innocent civilians. That’s not a suggestion. It’s a requirement. And the fact that it’s hard doesn’t act as a free pass to simply take revenge regardless of how many layers of legal procedure we run it through to make it feel less like revenge.

Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

JDV

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4 thoughts on “Should terrorists be tried in civil courts?

  1. Wow! As I started reading this, I had a predetermined idea of how the terrorist should be tried- in a military court, where the best chance would be of finding him guilty and putting him away for life. However, your words give me a different way of looking at it which I must think about. Thanks for providing the food for thought!

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  2. Jim, I read this earlier and had no words. Coming to this again I find something nagging away. That if we have a different requirement of justice (or behaviour) to one group or another – where does that start and end?

    Is it just with terrorists, or can it apply to us – that we have a different standard with other God-lovers than those who are not? Then friends and family – different to strangers? Work colleagues who “are given some slack” – someone who gets no slack elsewhere? Nice people we get on with – nasty people we steer clear of? Those who agree with us – those who don’t?

    I have no answer to your specific words here. Yet they have roused something deeper and more wide ranging – of which this must be part.

    The theory is the easy bit to argue over. The practical is what we all stumble on.

    Which means I have to add – a great post JV! Thank you!

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    • Always plenty to think about from your comments Paul. Thank you. When applying the force of government, if you believe you have identified the right way then the only conscionable thing to do is to apply it without prejudice.

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