Today, the day before Barack Obama will be sworn in as this nation’s 44th president, our 43rd president’s shameful military commissions continue apace. As millions of Americans gather in D.C. to celebrate the inauguration, Omar Khadr, who has spent one-third of his life growing up in Guantánamo, is once more being hauled before a military judge in a final pre-trial hearing. Unless President Obama acts immediately, Khadr’s trial will commence on January 26, making the United States the first country since World War II to hold a war crimes trial for crimes allegedly committed by a juvenile. (Learn more about Khadr’s case by watching this video.)
Not quite the distinction you’d want in your first week on a new job, is it?
On Friday morning, the ACLU sent a letter to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, asking both bodies to intervene and prevent Khadr’s case from going forward. Friday afternoon, the U.N. Special Representative’s office responded, stating: “the trial of Omar Khadr will be a bad precedent and will undermine international legal protection for children.” They also sent the letter to the transition team.
Also on Friday, in a separate habeas corpus case in federal court, Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered that a defense mental health expert be granted access to Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a co-defendant of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the 9/11 case. Judge Sullivan declared it was “the antithesis of justice” to detain a man for six years without access to his own psychological expert. Allegations have been made in open court that bin al-Shibh is psychotic, a result of or affected by torture inflicted while he was in CIA custody. Judge Sullivan also referred to Guantánamo as “that hellhole” and said the incoming administration should shut it down.
Echoing that sentiment Friday was Air Force Col. Peter Masciola, chief defense counsel of the Office of Military Commissions, who sent a letter to military commissions convening authority Susan Crawford, requesting that she withdraw all Guantánamo cases currently being prosecuted. A reasonable request, we think: Crawford did, after all, admit last week that Gitmo detainee Mohammed al-Qhatani was tortured. Appealing to this admission, Masciola wrote: ”The perception of pervasive torture now saddles the incoming Administration and its efforts to set these proceedings on a just course.”
Finally, it’s certainly worth noting that late in the day Friday, government lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the habeas corpus petition the ACLU filed a mere three days prior on behalf of Guantánamo detainee Mohammed Jawad. ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi, who’s representing Jawad in his habeas petition, said: “With just a few hours left on the final working day of the Bush administration, the Department of Justice is making a last, desperate attempt to argue that Mr. Jawad’s unlawful military commission case must proceed.”
Ask President-elect Obama to shut down Guantánamo on Day One by sending him a message through the change.gov website. He needs to hear from you today, so he can act tomorrow.