Reuters reports on what could be a troubling trend: “Two Failed Terrorism Trials Raise Worry in Europe”:
Failed terrorism prosecutions in Germany and the Netherlands this week have highlighted Europe’s patchy record in securing convictions and prompted some to ask if laws need to be tightened.
One of the prosecutions was in the Netherlands; Samir Azzouz was caught in possession of “machinegun cartridges, mock explosive devices, electrical circuitry, maps and sketches of prominent buildings and chemicals prosecutors said could be bomb ingredients.” This wasn’t enough to satisfy the Dutch court, which held:
The court cannot come to a more far-reaching conclusion than that the suspect had an above-average interest in religious extremist violence.
Above average, indeed. The German case was even worse; Rainer Wendt, vice president of the German Police Union, said: “This verdict is completely incomprehensible to the police, and dangerous in its effect.”
Could the same thing happen here? To some extent, our court system should defend us better than most European systems, if only because criminal cases are decided by juries, which almost always operate with a modicum of common sense. But there is an inherent tension between breaking up terrorist conspiracies early, which provides maximum protection to the public, and waiting until they come to fruition, which makes criminal prosecution easier, but can lead to disastrous results.
Ultimately, the question becomes whether the criminal justice system is the best mechanism to deal with the terrorist threat. In general, if we have a choice between protecting our security with soldiers and protecting our security with lawyers, we’ll opt for the soldiers.