Textbook case: Justice for the subway bomber, in a civilian court

Written by Susan Mannella on .

Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi planned to kill himself and a lot of other people on the New York City subway last September.

This week, Mr. Zazi, 25, pleaded guilty to several terrorism charges. He has also produced evidence implicating his father, uncle and two high school classmates in the conspiracy. Had the plot succeeded, it would have been the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

A military commission didn't elicit the guilty plea from Mr. Zazi. The would-be bomber, who went to Pakistan in 2008 to fight with the Taliban against U.S. forces, has been giving information without the threat of torture. U.S. intelligence officials know the extent of his explosives training by al-Qaida and how the terror group goes about recruiting Americans as suicide bombers.

All this is known because Mr. Zazi pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. The former airport shuttle driver will be sentenced in June by a civilian judge to decades in prison, despite his cooperation.

If this is the kind of justice given cooperating terror suspects in civilian courts, why are certain politicians insisting on military trials?

The guilty plea and the investigation that broke the subway bombing conspiracy is a victory for the U.S. Justice Department and the American system of civilian justice. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should be commended for a textbook prosecution that kept Americans safe without sacrificing their values or violating their trust.

Most Americans have never heard of Mr. Zazi because there was no circus-like atmosphere surrounding his prosecution. Because politicians weren't grandstanding, Americans can see for themselves what a successful terror prosecution in a civilian court really looks like.


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