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ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commissions This Week
WEBWIRE – Thursday, October 23, 2008
GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – The American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo monitoring the military commission hearings of Omar Khadr and Mohammed Kamin and the arraignment of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani scheduled to take place this week. The ACLU has been present as an independent observer at nearly every commission hearing since 2004 and continues to see no indication that the proceedings are fair, impartial or in accordance with constitutional principles.
"From the get go, these deeply flawed commissions have stacked the deck in favor of the Bush administration. Any judicial system that allows evidence obtained through torture is fundamentally incompatible with the American system of justice" said Judy Rabinovitz, an ACLU attorney who is observing this week’s proceedings. "With the whole world watching these proceedings, the U.S. must stand up, reject this system and reaffirm its commitment to the rule of law"
Tainted by political interference, the proceedings have been riddled with ethical and legal problems from day one. Among other things, the proceedings allow the admission of secret evidence, hearsay and evidence obtained through torture. The Bush administration has admitted that at least three detainees in its custody have been subjected to waterboarding.
In September, a military judge banned Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, a Pentagon general, from acting as a legal advisor in Khadr’s case because of bias towards the prosecution. Several weeks later, the Department of Defense announced that Hartmann would be "reassigned" to a newly created post – director of court logistics – and replaced by his deputy as the military commissions’ legal advisor. Pledging to prosecute detainees at a quick pace, Hartmann said that his goal in his new post is "to keep the process moving, really intensely" an objective that raises questions about trials that cut corners, deny basic fairness and are aimed at convictions rather than uncovering the truth.
"The Khadr case in particular has illustrated the legal black hole that Guantánamo represents" said Rabinovitz. "Our government should end this farce and make a fresh start in America’s traditional civilian or military courts where the Constitution still means something"
Now 21, Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. In a signed, nine-page affidavit, Khadr charges that he was repeatedly threatened with rape during interrogations while held both in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay. Kamin is alleged to have provided martial support to al Qaeda and the Taliban between January and May 2003. Ghailani, who was transferred to the Guantánamo prison camp from secret CIA custody in 2006, is scheduled be arraigned for crimes related to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania. Ghailani was already indicted ten years ago in a U.S. federal court.
The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at the military commission proceedings. In addition to monitoring the commissions, the ACLU has repeatedly called on Congress and the Bush administration to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.
In May 2007, the ACLU endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would close the Guantánamo facility and end the practice of indefinite detention. It would also provide a push for the government to finally charge the Guantánamo detainees, some of whom have been held without charge for over six years.
Rabinovitz will post a series of blogs containing her comments and observations from the hearings on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, which can be found at: blog.aclu.org
Additional information about the ACLU’s involvement surrounding the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay can be found online at: aclu dot org/gitmo