On Tuesday morning, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was sentenced to life in a U.S. federal prison. The former al Qaeda spokesman was arrested in Jordan by U.S. authorities in 2013 and brought to New York for trial. He was convicted by a civilian jury in March of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals, conspiring to provide material support or resources, knowing or intending that they would be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, and providing such material support or resources. Convicted within a year of being charged, it was a swift and efficient case presided over by Judge Lewis Kaplan, a senior federal court judge with years of experience trying complex international terrorism cases.
Contrast that with what’s happening in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay. There, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants accused of masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks still aren’t anywhere near trial, though they’ve been in U.S. custody for more than a decade for a crime committed 13 years ago. While Abu Ghaith was convicted just 13 months after his arrest in a U.S. federal court that has clear laws and international credibility, the legal proceedings at Guantanamo are dragging on for years as the lawyers argue over which laws apply and the military judge, who had no experience handling terrorism cases before this one, struggles to issue rulings without clear procedural rules or any legal precedent to guide him.
The military commissions and Guantanamo Bay itself are an international embarrassment that only undermines U.S. credibility and national security. In this age of changing and expanding threats, we shouldn’t be spending millions of taxpayer dollars a year to maintain a powerful recruitment tool for our enemies. The Abu Ghaith sentence is just the latest in a huge and growing pile of evidence that we don’t have to.