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Trials for Terrorists: The Shifting Legal Landscape of the Post-9/11 Era

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 23 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2007 Pages: 195-218
Brian Levin
Date Published
May 2007
24 pages
This article analyzed the shifting legal framework following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The analysis revealed that following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration was granted wide-ranging but temporary authority to detain suspected terrorists without regard to traditional legal protocols and restrictions. During the period immediately following the attacks, the United States Government was given wide legal leeway to use both civilian and military authority to investigate, apprehend, detain, and prosecute terror suspects. The public and other branches of government provided support for these activities, including detainments. However, as the “war on terrorism” dragged on, the courts and Congress began to limit the broad authority it had initially granted the government, particularly in regards to the ability of the military to detain American and non-American citizens. In making this argument, the author reviews the USA PATRIOT Act and how it was wielded by the U.S. Government to side-step traditional legal protocols and restrictions. Case studies are described of particular detainees and the legal actions surrounding their detention and the attempted assertion of their rights. The author notes that the struggle between the protection of civil rights on the one hand and the expansion of prosecutorial authority on the other hand is likely to continue as new terror threats and new governmental abuses come to light. Appeals to the United States Supreme Court regarding detentions at Guantanamo Bay are discussed, which limited the executive authority previously allowed to the U.S. Government and resulted in major changes regarding the handling of American and foreign terrorist suspects. In response to the Supreme Court rulings, President Bush signed a compromise bill called the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which sets rules and procedures for military tribunals and places restrictions of aggressive interrogation tactics. Figures, tables, references


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