ACLU to Continue Monitoring Military Commissions at Guantánamo Bay as Trials Resume; Daily Dispatches Posted to Group's Website
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK - As hearings resume this week at the military commissions in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the American Civil Liberties Union said it will have observers present throughout November and will post daily reports on a weblog at /gitmo.
"The problems that the ACLU had identified from the beginning were borne out in concrete detail during the initial commissions," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, who observed the first of the hearings in late August. "What's hard to understand is that given the high-profile nature of these commissions, why wouldn't the government go the extra mile to deepen public confidence in this so-called fair and independent process?"
Problems identified by Romero and other human rights observers during that initial week included incompetent translators, lack of an independent review outside the military chain of command, the use of secret evidence, tangled relationships between the panel members, and the difficulties incurred by the defense counsel representing their clients. Romero's reports can be found online in a weblog at /cpredirect/18486.
From November 1 - 8, ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer will act as an observer and will report in a daily weblog. Other ACLU attorneys will be present at the commissions in the following weeks and will also report in.
According to news reports following the initial commissions, government officials have acknowledged that the system is in disarray. Last week, half the members of the military commission scheduled to hear the first two cases against Guantánamo Bay detainees were removed from the panel for potential bias after challenges by defense attorneys.
But the ACLU said the removal of two panelists raises a new concern: to secure a guilty verdict, the prosecution now needs to convince only two out of three panel members, rather than four out of five.
"By declining to replace disqualified panel members, the government has made the defense's task more difficult," Jaffer said. "What was already an uneven playing field is now even more tilted in the government's favor."
Many of the ACLU's concerns with the military commissions have been outlined in a recent report, titled "Conduct Unbecoming: Pitfalls in the Presidents Military Commissions," which analyzes in detail the Defense Department's guidelines for the military commissions. The commissions were authorized by a 2001 presidential order.