Sept. 12, 2008
Law alumnus discusses threats against judges in Thursday law school lecture
Federal judges have grown used to threats of violence, but the most worrisome threats don't usually come from foreign-born, anti-American terrorists, a U.S. federal district court judge said at the University of Iowa College of Law Thursday.
John C. Coughenour, former chief judge of the Western Washington District who presided over the trial of "Millennium Bomber" Ahmed Ressam, said hatred from inside the country is more dangerous.
"I had more to fear from my own fellow citizens than from Mr. Ressam during that trial," said Coughenour.
Coughenour, a 1966 UI law school graduate, is now a senior judge in the Western Washington District. His address, "Judicial Security after 9/11," was the James Fraser Smith Lecture for 2008.
Coughenour pointed out that before 1979, only one federal judge had ever been assassinated, but five have been killed since then. Especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security has increased significantly at U.S. courthouses, which are now filled with metal detectors, surveillance devices and armed guards.
But Coughenour said the greatest threats to a judge come outside the courtroom, noting that the five judges who have been assassinated in the past 30 years were killed at home or some other place away from the courthouse.
Coughenour talked about security details that have trailed him and his family during several of the trials he presided over, including the Ressam trial. But he said the biggest threat in that trial came afterward, during Ressam's sentencing, when Coughenour harshly criticized the U.S. government's use of secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. Coughenour said the criticism led to a pile of hate mail, death threats, and condemnation from talk show host Bill O'Reilly, "which I wear as a badge of honor."
He said he was particularly proud that Ressam's trial was conducted fully in the open, despite the government's efforts to make some evidence secret.
"Mr. Ressam received all the protections afforded by the Constitution to any American citizen," Coughenour said.
Coughenour was appointed as judge in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He served until 2006, when he retired to senior judge status.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
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