US Judge Rules No Secret Jury In ISIS Case
Tue, January 10, 2017
Illustrative picture. (Photo: © Creative Commons/Phi Requiem)
The first ISIS case to be tried in Manhattan began on Monday. Ahmed Mohamed el Gammal stands accused of aiding and abetting terrorism by helping 24-year-old Samy el-Goarany, a student of Baruch College, New York, travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. El-Goarany died in Syria and his father plans to testify at the trial.
Prosecutors will use evidence from el-Gammal’s social media to argue he helped recruit el-Goarany to fight for ISIS. The defense will refer to a video in which el-Goarany declared he had come to Syria without help.
Prosecutors on behalf of Attorney Preet Bharara asked Judge Edgardo Ramos to grant a request to have an anonymous jury on the grounds that ISIS is “an extremely violent terrorist organization that has publicly published ‘kill lists’ of United States citizens, including New York residents.”
Yet Judge Ramos denied the request, saying that an anonymous jury “is a drastic measure” which increases the risk “of unfair prejudice to the defendant.” He also said the request was unnecessary since the trial was for a non-violent crime.
Was he right to deny the request?
PRO: Judge Ramos Should Have Allowed a Secret Jury
Terrorism cases are not like regular crimes. Those serving on the jury are ordinary citizens performing their civic duty. They should not be put in a position where they are made to feel unsafe because they put their lives aside to be on jury duty.
Islamic State operatives, no matter at how junior a level, are extremely dangerous individuals. If the defendant can identify the members of the jury then he may contact other ISIS members with their information and put them at risk.
The worst case scenario is that one or more of the jury members could even be murdered -- either to intimidate the jury or to take revenge should they hand down a guilty verdict.
Furthermore, the jurors will know about the dangers posed by the Islamic State. Fear of reprisal action by the world’s most notorious terrorist group may influence their decision-making and thus unbalance the trial.
CON: Judge Ramos was Right to Refuse a Secret Jury
One of the founding principles of a free society is a right to a free and fair trial. Trials in which the defendant and the wider court do not know who is going to hand down the verdict is the first step towards trial by secret courts, in which the defendant is deprived of rights.
An anonymous jury may feel emboldened to act more harshly towards the defendant and are protected from being answerable for the consequences of their verdict from the press or from other figures.
While protecting juries is important, the principle of innocent until proven guilty is also very important. Secret juries open up the possibility of biased and prejudicial decisions with no feedback or accountability for the decision.
Human rights are especially important in cases like these because they test our societal commitment to upholding the virtues of openness and transparency.
Normalizing secret juries is a dangerous step. Judge Ramos was right to call it a “drastic measure” and we should only resort to it in the most serious of circumstances.
What is your opinion about Judge Ramos’ decision? Should he have granted the request for a secret jury or was he right to deny it? Tell us what you think by writing to [email protected]