ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commission Trial This Week

October 27, 2008 12:00 am

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba – The American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo to monitor the military commission trial of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul scheduled to begin today. The ACLU has been present as an independent observer at nearly every military commission hearing since 2004 and continues to see no indication that the proceedings are fair, impartial or in accordance with constitutional principles.

“Clearly something is fundamentally wrong with a system that admits evidence obtained through torture, employs ad hoc rules that are made up on the fly and lacks meaningful constitutional protections,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program who is observing al-Bahlul’s proceedings. “America deserves better than a system that is so incompatible with universal notions of fairness and justice.”

Tainted by political interference, the proceedings have been riddled with ethical and legal problems from day one. Among other things, the proceedings allow the admission of secret evidence, hearsay and evidence obtained through torture. The Bush administration has admitted that at least three detainees in its custody have been subjected to waterboarding. Currently, 253 detainees classified as “alien unlawful enemy combatants” remain in U.S. custody and only 25 have been charged before this flawed military commission system.

Al-Bahlul, a Yemeni national, was first tried in the original military commissions. After they were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, he was charged in the new system after Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in 2006. Al-Bahlul is alleged to be Osama bin Laden’s communications director and is charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, solicitation and material support to terrorism. In August, al-Bahlul refused to accept military defense counsel and he continues to represent himself in the current proceedings.

“These commissions don’t even resemble a legitimate justice system – they have become a farce in the eyes of the world,” said Dakwar. “There is absolutely no reason to continue this sham a single day longer.”

The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at the military commission proceedings. In addition to monitoring the commissions, the ACLU has repeatedly called on Congress and the Bush administration to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay.

In May 2007, the ACLU endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would close the Guantánamo facility and end the practice of indefinite detention. It would also provide a push for the government to finally charge the Guantánamo detainees, some of whom have been held without charge for over six years.

Dakwar will post a series of blogs containing his comments and observations from the hearings on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, which can be found at:

Additional information about the ACLU’s work related to the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay can be found online at:

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