In a ruling that significantly narrows Congress’s power to use military courts to try war crimes cases, a result likely to be tested in the Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday threw out the last remaining conviction of a propagandist for the Al Qaeda global terrorism network. The decision was a major stroke of judicial independence and a strong reaffirmation of the constitutional role of civilian courts.
By a vote of two to one, the three-judge panel nullified the conviction of a Yemeni national, Ali Hamza Suliman al Bahlul, for conspiracy to commit war crimes, because that charge is not recognized in international law. If conduct only violates domestic criminal law, and not law recognized internationally, it can only be prosecuted in a civilian court, according to the decision.
The federal government has vigorously