While the United States prides itself on having the best law enforcement officials and prosecutors in the world when it comes to investigating terrorism and prosecuting terrorists and their associates or supporters, there is an obvious lack of expertise in terrorism on the part of trial judges.
Too often, federal and local court judges treat terrorism cases in the same manner in which they treat robberies, burglaries or violence crimes. While the rules and procedures for trying terrorism cases remains the same as for other offenses, it would be beneficial for judges to have an expertise in terrorism, counterterrorism and radical Islam.
Then we have the civil courts which are hearing more and more lawsuits involving victims and their families who are suing individual terrorists and supports or initiating lawsuits against terrorist groups and host countries. Judges hearing such cases need to be educated in terrorism in order to understand its nuances.
Perhaps a good system to study is that of the Belgium government which is set to appoint 13 new investigative judges to work exclusively on cases involving terrorism, as Belgium attempts to respond to an increased threat of terror.
The majority of these terrorism judges will be appointed by the end of June or early July, according to Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx. In essence, Onkelinx is setting up de facto terrorist courts in Belgium, similar to drug courts in the US.
Originally the Belgium Ministry of Justice wished to appoint only five special judges for their terrorist caseload, but because of the growing backlog and the sheer volume of cases requiring attention, the number of posts was upped to 13 magistrates.
Belgium's leading terrorism magistrate Johan Delmulle said the police and prosecution offices currently employed terrorism specialists, many of whom come with experience in such cases from other areas such as the military. He said that it was only logical that their investigations should be overseen by investigative judges with the same degree of expertise.
Of these newly appointed judges, four will be working in the capital of Brussels, and two in each of the three major cities -- Antwerp, Gent and Mons, while the city of Liege is to be allotted three terrorism magistrates, one of whom will be responsible for the predominately German speaking community.
The number of posts was based on an analysis of the terrorism threat and the number of cases that are already being investigated in certain parts of the country. The new judges will be directly responsible for their assigned areas, but they will also be empowered to operate on a national level should a large-scale case present itself or should an actual terrorist attack occur.
According to a Belgium police chief, who's a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the federal prosecutors' office initiated over 220 investigations into alleged terrorist activities and conspiracies since 2002. About 40 percent of them -- 89 investigations -- were initiated in 2005.
Belgium's Federal Public Prosecutor's Office said that the appointment of the specialist magistrates was vital to terrorism prevention efforts. Recent high profile terrorist trials have highlighted the need for specialists in the field.
It's advisable for US judges to apprise themselves of the Belgium model and perhaps implement what is successful while determining and avoiding what's unsuccessful in their new system.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.