Back to News & Commentary

Obama Can’t Fix the Military Commissions

Share This Page
May 11, 2009

As news reports continue to suggest that the Obama administration is preparing to revive the military commissions system established at Guantánamo, the ACLU’s John Adams Project’s Director Denny LeBeouf explains why President Obama can’t “fix” the military commissions in a opinion piece. As Director of the project, Denny has been present at nearly all of the military commissions proceedings in the 9/11 trial.

She explains that the “[s]ince their adoption by the Bush administration, military commissions had been understood around the world as a sham — a false front designed to look like a criminal justice system but rigged to guarantee convictions and death sentences.” Denny details that one of the most disturbing aspects of the commissions process is the “degree to which they create ‘shortcuts’ that make it easier to obtain convictions than it would be in real courts” — including confessions extracted by torture, hearsay and secret evidence. In addition to using evidence obtained by torture, the commissions were also set up to protect the identity of torturers.

As the Obama administration’s 120-day review period of Guantánamo detainees comes near its end, we are calling on President Obama to entirely scrap the failed military commissions process. Where there is actual evidence of criminal activity, our federal courts are well positioned to accommodate legitimate national security interests without compromising the fundamental rights of defendants. It is of the utmost importance that these cases are tried in a court that upholds due process, and in which judges and attorneys are held to constitutional obligations and accountable to the rule of law. Our time-tested civilian courts are equipped to handle complex national security cases, and have done so successfully before and after September 11.

In the piece, Denny writes:

It is not easy to invent a criminal justice system — the one that operates in federal courts across the land is the product of more than 200 years of refinement by all three branches of our American government. Thousands of Supreme Court opinions have polished many of the rough edges off the process…

The military commissions system is 5 years old. The law itself is fraught with internal inconsistencies, besides being blatantly weighted in favor or prosecution. It has been the subject of three Supreme Court opinions, all of them reversals…

The president should not attempt to ‘fix’ the unfixable military commissions. This president was elected in part because he promised to close Guantánamo and end the commissions…

We all want America restored. Ending the military commissions, the Torture Tribunals, is a necessary step in that process.

You can read the entire piece here.