ACLU At Guantánamo For First Military Commission Trial This Week

July 24, 2008 12:00 am

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Hamdan Case Highlights Flaws In Unconstitutional System

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NEW YORK – With the military commission trial of Yemeni national Salim Ahmed Hamdan underway this week, the inherent flaws of this system continue to be apparent. The ACLU is at Guantánamo Bay observing the proceedings which began on Monday. The Hamdan trial is the first military commission trial to take place since the Bush administration set up the notorious Guantánamo detention camp as a way to bypass the U.S. justice system.

“As the first trial in the administration’s military commissions, the Hamdan case will test the limits of a deeply flawed and unconstitutional system,” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project who is observing the trial. “At every step of the way it has become painfully clear that these ad hoc tribunals are no substitute for American civilian and military courts where the Constitution still means something. Let’s end this farce and make a fresh start in a system that reflects our nation’s core values.”

As further proof that the commission system is fundamentally flawed, the military judge in Hamdan’s case already had to remove some evidence obtained through “highly coercive environments and conditions,” but did not categorically disallow all evidence derived by torture. Contrary to the rules of the American justice system, the Guantánamo military commissions also permit secret and hearsay evidence.

In 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Hamdan won a landmark Supreme Court victory that struck down the Bush administration’s original commissions as unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Geneva Conventions. However, Congress later passed and President Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006 authorizing a modified system of military tribunals that grants the government the authority to prosecute detainees without many of the constitutional protections required by U.S. civilian courts and traditional military courts governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Following last month’s Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution and habeas corpus apply at Guantánamo, news outlets have reported that the Bush administration is engaging in detailed planning for the closure of the detention camp. As the premise for the existence of the Guantánamo prison camp and the military commission system continues to crumble, the Bush administration is continuing to rush through proceedings of high profile detainees before the November election. The ACLU renews its call for the prison and the military commissions there to be shut down once and for all.

“There is no reason to keep this unlawful system up and running. Guantánamo and its military commissions represent a stain on this country’s reputation – and a major threat to national security,” said Wizner.

Last May, in another demonstration of the inherent unfairness of the Bush administration’s military commissions, a military judge disqualified a top Pentagon general from Hamdan’s case who was accused of politicizing the already flawed system. Navy lawyers charged that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann’s dual role of supervising the prosecution and offering legal advice to the commissions’ convening authority, who must make impartial assessments on issues raised by both the prosecution and defense, represented a clear conflict of interest.

As part of its John Adams Project, a partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the ACLU is sponsoring expert civilian counsel to assist the under-resourced military defense counsel of some detainees.

More information on the John Adams Project is available online at:

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