ACLU At Guantánamo For Military Commission Hearings This Week

July 15, 2008 12:00 am

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Federal Court Decision In Hamdan Case Could Halt Unconstitutional System

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo Bay this week observing the military commission hearings of Yemeni national Salim Ahmed Hamdan, whose trial is scheduled to begin next week. Separately, a federal judge is holding a hearing on Thursday to decide whether to delay Hamdan’s trial and allow lawyers to continue challenging the legality of the commission system. A ruling in favor of Hamdan could bring the unlawful military commissions to a halt.

“Once again, Hamdan will test the administration’s attempt at sidestepping the rule of law. But no matter what the judge decides, military commissions that allow secret, hearsay, and even coerced evidence obtained through torture have no place in the American justice system,” said Lee Gelernt, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who is in Guantánamo for this week’s hearings. “There are no excuses left for keeping the Bush administration’s offshore prison camp at Guantánamo open a single day longer.”

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 Guantánamo Bay 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 occurring there to be shut down once and for all.

“America’s historic reputation as a nation committed to the principle of due process continues to be tarnished as a result of the government’s stubborn insistence on continuing to carry out these military commission proceedings. It’s time to turn the page and shut down this fundamentally flawed system once and for all,” said Gelernt.

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: www.aclu.org

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