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A Beacon for Liberty and Justice

Jennifer Turner,
Human Rights Researcher,
ACLU Human Rights Program
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August 13, 2010

Tuesday was the conclusion of jury selection for the trial of Canadian Omar Khadr, as 15 jury pool members were whittled down to seven selected jurors, all officers in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines.

Jury selection offered a glimpse into the opinions of high-ranking military officers about Guantánamo and the military commissions. Two of the prospective jury members said they believed Guantánamo should be closed, but only one of the two was selected for the jury.

The jury foreman (based on highest rank), a Navy Captain referred to only as Juror #5, said Guantánamo presents a “no-win” situation, hurts our reputation overseas, and has led to bad press and bad relations with other countries. The chief prosecutor in the case, Jeffrey Groharing, unsuccessfully argued that Juror #5 couldn’t be impartial because of his opinions about Gitmo.

Eliminated during voir dire — the jury selection phase wherein potential jurors are questioned by the attorneys — was Juror #16, an Army Lt. Colonel and history professor who was the best informed about Guantánamo among the jury pool (he was also the only one who mentioned reading national newspapers). The 20-year Army officer said he agrees with the President that Guantánamo should be closed. He said Guantánamo has “eroded America’s moral authority in the world” and caused America to lose its “status as a beacon of liberty and justice” because Gitmo “runs contrary to those principles.”

Under questioning by the prosecutor, Juror #16 said he disagrees with the policies here at Gitmo, including lengthy pretrial detention, torture, and denial of Red Cross access to detainees. He said he is aware of controversial legal issues that arise in the military commissions and have led to delays in bringing cases to trial, including the admissibility of evidence obtained under torture, the lack of legal precedent for many of the charges brought before the military commissions, and the rights of minors charged as enemy combatants.

He’s absolutely right: these controversial legal issues, all of which are live issues in Khadr’s case, could lead to years of appeals after this trial is over, instead of an outcome we can count on.

Groharing argued vociferously against Juror #16, at one point bizarrely arguing that the juror will be prejudiced against the government (what they call the prosecution here) because he agrees with the President. Groharing argued, “Number 16 has a decidedly hostile attitude toward Guantánamo. He kept saying he agreed with the President.”

The military judge, for his part, denied the prosecution’s request to eliminate Juror #16 for cause (though the prosecution later axed the juror using their one available peremptory challenge, which doesn’t require an explanation). The judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, wryly ruled, “while he believes the U.S. should be a beacon for liberty, that should not be the basis for a challenge for cause.”

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