9/11 Defendants To Be Tried In Federal Court

November 13, 2009 12:00 am

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Military Commissions Will Be Used To Try Some Guantánamo Detainees

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NEW YORK – In a major victory for due process and the rule of law, the Obama administration will announce today that the five defendants represented by the John Adams Project who have been charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks will be tried in federal court rather than in the Guantánamo military commissions. However, the administration will also announce that it will continue to use the illegitimate military commissions system to prosecute some Guantánamo detainees, including the defendant accused in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. The American Civil Liberties Union has been working through the Project, a joint effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), to provide legal assistance to the five individuals accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks and other military commissions defendants. The Guantánamo military commissions proceedings have been plagued from the start with legal challenges and international condemnation due to their disregard for basic due process rights.

“The transfer of cases to federal court is a huge victory for restoring due process and the rule of law, as well as repairing America’s international standing, an essential part of ensuring our national security. We can now finally achieve the real and reliable justice that Americans deserve. It would have been an enormous blow to American values if we had tried these defendants in a process riddled with legal problems,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “However, it’s disappointing that the administration has chosen to prosecute some Guantánamo detainees in the unsalvageable military commissions system. Time and again the federal courts have proven themselves capable of handling terrorism cases while protecting both American values and sensitive national security information. Justice can only be served in our tried and true courts.”

Through the John Adams Project, the ACLU and the NACDL assembled a team of trial counsel, mitigation specialists and investigators to work with the under-resourced military lawyers in their representation of Guantánamo detainees accused in connection with the 9/11 attacks and other cases. The John Adams Project attorneys brought years of experience in criminal defense law, including much needed expertise in capital cases, to the defense effort. The Project’s lawyers, who were formally admitted by the presiding judge as part of the civilian legal team, appeared before the military commissions on their clients’ behalf numerous times and filed over 80 pretrial motions in the proceedings. Project lawyers spent hundreds of hours meeting with Guantánamo defendants, and, in one case alone, made 20 trips to Guantánamo and spent more than 225 hours meeting with the defendant. The John Adams Project worked to bring some degree of fairness to the proceedings while raising awareness of their serious deficiencies, and succeeded in stopping the military commissions from fast-tracking to illegitimate guilty verdicts and subsequent death sentences.

“Over $4 million of private money has been spent on what should have been the government’s legal responsibility, but we are gratified that we averted a miscarriage of justice in sham proceedings,” said Romero. “We launched the John Adams Project because of our grave concerns that the military commissions process does not reflect our country’s commitment to justice and due process. Through our representation of these defendants as part of the Project, the ACLU has seen first-hand the legal debacle of the military commissions and has repeatedly called for their abolition. Moving these cases to federal courts will finally deliver the justice that Americans deserve and can trust. We call on the administration to reconsider the continued use of military commissions and to rely on our federal courts that can finally deliver the justice that Americans deserve and can trust.”

With today’s announcement that these cases will be transferred to federal courts, the ACLU/NACDL John Adams Project will be formally discontinued. The ACLU will continue to fight for a fair and constitutional resolution of all detainees’ cases, including the provision of government resources for the defense of the detainee accused of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole and others.

“America is showing the world that we intend to return to a system of justice that upholds the values we espouse for ourselves and for nations around the world,” said Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director of the NACDL. “Unfortunately, it appears that some individuals will apparently still be subjected to military commission proceedings which do not comport with American values. The administration is perpetuating a flawed parallel justice system designed solely to convict, and the ACLU and the NACDL will continue to oppose it.”

For more information about the history of the Project, including statements of support from prominent military and government leaders and 9/11 family members, go to: www.aclu.org/johnadams

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