A process to emulate, not scrap

A PROCESS TO EMULATE, NOT SCRAP…. Najibullah Zazi represented a serious terrorist threat to the United States, arguably the most important since 9/11. He’d been recruited and trained by al Qaeda; he’d bought bomb materials; and he’d traveled to New York with bomb-making instructions in his laptop.

Obama administration officials thwarted Zazi’s plan and took him into custody. Yesterday, in a civilian court, Zazi pleaded guilty on terrorism charges and will spend the rest of the his life behind bars. Given Republican rhetoric and the larger debate, it’s worth appreciating just how significant this success story is. It’s not just a victory for law enforcement and intelligence gathering — tools the GOP mocks — it’s also a victory for the legal process the right is desperate to circumvent.

Law enforcement sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation continues, said Zazi began to accelerate his cooperation after authorities charged his Afghan-born father with crimes and threatened to charge his mother with immigration offenses — options that are not available in the military justice system.

Notice that last part? Zazi was Mirandized and given a lawyer, and he nevertheless cooperated with federal officials and became a valuable source of intelligence. Because we tortured him? No, because we utilized the criminal justice system, rather than throwing him in Gitmo and/or trying him through military commissions.

By sticking to the existing process — following the same process other modern presidents have followed — Zazi has shared with officials information about his activities, training, accomplices, and overseas associations.

Adam Serwer emphasized a point that often goes overlooked:

[T]he only reason Republicans are insisting on using military courts in all circumstances is because they “sound” tougher. In practice, civilian courts hand out harsher sentences and are better equipped to handle terrorism cases. They also provide better incentives for providing accurate information on the part of the defendants.

The Zazi case is a textbook example of a process that works. Why anyone would condemn this process and insist on a less effective alternative is a mystery to me.

To think Republican rhetoric in this debate is compelling is to pay no attention to current events.