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Putting the Brake on the Train Towards Executions

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April 10, 2008

This week the military commissions resumed at Guantanamo Bay with the scheduled hearings of three detainees: Sudanese national Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, Saudi national Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi and Canadian national Omar Ahmed Khadr.

Today’s New York Times profiled the roadblocks that military prosecutors and defense attorneys are grappling with as the military commissions lurch along. Reporter William Glaberson writes that while the Pentagon’s Thomas Hartmann attempts to accelerate the pace of the proceedings,

The road to a trial is difficult in some cases partly because they involve potential death penalties and claims of torture by interrogators, issues that raise thorny legal questions that could take months or longer to sort out. But even comparatively simple cases without capital penalty issues are proceeding slowly.

The ACLU, along with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), has assembled groups of highly experienced attorneys available to assist in the detainees’ defense. The effort, which we’ve dubbed the John Adams Project, is our attempt to bring some fairness to the process and raise awareness about its deep flaws. Glaberson describes how the deck is already stacked against the detainees:

Guantanamo military defense lawyers have long said they are not given resources by the Pentagon to match the investigative capability of the military prosecution, which draws on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies. Until a handful of new military lawyers were appointed this week to represent Sept. 11 defendants, the military defense office was sharply outnumbered, with 15 defense lawyers to battle 31 prosecutors.

Some of the most egregious problems with the commissions are that they allow the use of secret evidence, hearsay, and evidence possibly derived from torture. ABC News has now reported that the White House approved the torture techniques used by military and intelligence personnel abroad. According to the article, authorization to torture came from the top:

The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The article states: “According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

Indeed, it will not.

In their book, Administration of Torture, ACLU attorneys Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh drive home the point that top officials in the Bush administration have yet to be held accountable for their involvement in the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody.

Just yesterday, Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program, attended al-Darbi’s hearing as a human rights observer. Jamil watched as al-Darbi, who was abused while in U.S. military custody, denounced the military commissions as illegitimate, refused to accept legal representation by the defense lawyers provided by the military and demanded an attorney from Saudi Arabia instead-which he will not be allowed. Jamil blogged about yesterday’s hearing in DailyKos.

Our effort to draw attention to the injustices at Guantanamo ventured into Second Life a few months ago, and today, VanityFair.com profiled Gone Gitmo, a virtual Guantanamo that depicts the now-defunct Camp X-Ray, the cyclone fence holding area where detainees were held until they were moved to indoor cells. We’ve collaborated with Gone Gitmo creators Nonny de la Peña and Peggy Weil on a few Second Life events to promote awareness of the abuses at the online detention facility, most notably our January 11, 2008 Close Guantanamo event. Most recently, ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner, who has witnessed the military commission hearings at Guantanamo as a human rights observer, answered questions from Second Lifers on March 19.