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Military Commissions, Obama-Style

Christopher Anders,
Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Democracy and Technology,
American Civil Liberties Union
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May 19, 2009

It’s official: Bush-era military commissions are back.

And the Obama administration has even put its stamp of approval on them. They have made a few changes, but the idea is still the same.

If hearsay is admissible, there is no protection against evidence that was beaten out of a witness (who is not present in court) from being used to convict someone. Given how pervasive the use of torture and abuse was in interrogations, there is a very significant danger that detainees may be convicted based on evidence obtained by torture or abuse.

So, we are now about to get the third scheme for putting on trial the Guantánamo detainees who President Bush used to call the worst of the worst. The first commission scheme was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. The second commission scheme was such a mess that President Obama suspended the trials. And now we have the third scheme. After all these years and all these schemes, only three people have been convicted at Guantánamo (out of the nearly 1,000 detainees who went through Guantánamo) — including an Australian kangaroo trapper who pled guilty as a way to get OUT of Guantánamo and return home to freedom in Australia.

Obama would be much better off putting anyone he believes should be charged into the regular civilian criminal courts — the same U.S. courts that have been busy with the hard work of holding real trials of terrorism defendants, and actually sending many of them off to prison after conviction — instead of trying to rig some new lawless scheme.

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