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No Justice Can Come From Guantánamo Military Commissions

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October 20, 2009

(Also posted on Huffington Post)

According to news reports, the Obama administration will decide by November 16 whether or not to move the cases of the 9/11 defendants from the Guantánamo military commissions system to U.S. federal courts. It should make this important move and put an end to a shameful era in American history.

I am the mother of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an NYPD Cadet who died in WTC Tower II, and I am one of the few Americans who have travelled to Guantánamo to observe the proceedings there. At the 9/11 defendants’ hearing last month, I witnessed for myself the mess that is Guantánamo “justice.” I, and many other 9/11 family members, believe that the only way we can see real justice is to transfer these cases to federal courts and abandon the broken system that has come to symbolize the grave missteps of the last administration.

The military commissions system, even with recently proposed modifications, still falls short of the legal standards that make our criminal justice system capable of delivering reliable justice. Abandoning this system is an abandonment of our values of fairness and justice that so many who died on 9/11 stood for, and that have been the foundation of our democracy for over 200 years. The commissions, which will continue to be tainted by the dark legacy of Guantánamo, will always be doubted and cannot achieve the justice that 9/11 family members and all Americans deserve. Any verdict borne of these proceedings will lack an air of legitimacy and leave us wondering if true justice has been served — not bring comfort or closure.

On the other hand, we know that U.S. federal courts can handle terrorism cases while upholding the rule of law and protecting our values. The Guantánamo military commissions have produced only three terrorism-related convictions in seven years, while our federal courts have successfully prosecuted dozens of terrorism suspects — including “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel-Rahman, 9/11 conspirator Zacaraias Moussoui and “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid. There is no reason these same courts couldn’t securely manage the Guantánamo terrorism cases.

Moving these trials to our federal courts would also allow us to achieve American justice on American soil, and would make it much easier for people like me to attend. Having that opportunity is very important to many 9/11 family members.

Some people have expressed concern that moving the trials to federal courts would delay the prosecutions for several years. But keeping them at Guantánamo would only lead to further legal challenges and interruptions due to the ad hoc nature of the system there and its troubled history. Even if the military commissions WERE able to proceed at a faster pace than they have so far, trading justice for expediency is not the American way

President Obama’s pledge to close Guantánamo was encouraging. Along with that should come the end of the commission system that goes with it. The time for justice in these cases has arrived.

Learn more about the ACLU’s work on Guantánamo here.

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