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"The Mouth That Prohibits Is the Mouth That Permits"

Jamil Dakwar,
Director, ACLU Human Rights Program
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May 16, 2006

Guantanamo military commission proceedings will resume tomorrow in the case of U.S. v. Abdul Zahir. It’s very hot and humid down here in Guantanamo and the heat is only expected to exacerbate by the end of June and early July when the Supreme Court delivers its decision with respect to the legality of the military commissions.

Last Friday, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the D.C. District Court ordered a stay in another case that was scheduled for this week, U.S. v. Ghassan al Sharbi. Judge Sullivan wrote in his decision that “[al Sharbi] faces proceedings before a commission that may be deemed illegal within a month.” It’s interesting that although al Sharbi and Zahir are part of a group of only 10 Guantanamo detainees who have been charged before a military commission, the government argued that a brief delay would imperil the war effort. This has apparently not impressed Judge Sullivan who stated that the government failed to explain “why the Court must adhere to the laws of war now, rather than wait a few weeks so that it may follow the rule of law, as it will be determined by the Supreme Court.”

Indeed, here in Guantanamo, it’s all about respecting the basic concept of the rule of law. The President, through his military subordinates, has created Guantanamo detention camps, asserted his inherent powers as Commander-in-Chief to set up a military commission for which he defined the crimes, choose the prosecutors and the presiding officers and yet stated last week he would like to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling. Well, as the dictum in the Talmud says “the mouth that prohibits is the mouth that permits.” President Bush does not need the Court’s approval to close down the camps or to order fair trials for the close to 500 Guantanamo detainees. He is the one who authorized Guantanamo and he is the one who has the power to bring this sad chapter of American history to an end.

Tomorrow will be Mr. Zahir’s second appearance before the military commission. Last month, his military defense counsel started a voir dire inquiry — a process which allows the defense to question the impartiality of the presiding officer. The general allegation against Mr. Zahir is conspiracy to commit war crimes which appear almost in all the ten charge sheets filed against the prisoners facing military commission proceedings. Mr. Zahir is also charged with aiding the enemy (al Qaida and the Taliban) between 1997 and July 2002, and, with others, throwing a grenade on a civilian car in Gardez, Afghanistan, and injuring a Toronto Star reporter who was in the vehicle.

In comparison to previous hearings, only a handful of persistent reporters are here to cover Mr. Zahir’s hearing, and the ACLU is the only organization this week monitoring the hearings. But as we witnessed in earlier hearings, a day of hearing could shed more light on Guantanamo detainees and their living conditions and attitudes toward this process, which largely remains in the dark and far from public attention and scrutiny.

Yesterday, the Pentagon released a long-awaited list of Guantanamo detainees in response to an ongoing Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press.

The list includes information on 759 detainees by name, citizenship, place of birth, date of birth and an internment identification number. It is interesting to note that according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, the list includes “every single individual detained under Department of Defense control,” which leaves us with the impression that other detainees may still have not been accounted for and who might have been held in Guantanamo under the custody of other government agencies.

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