ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commissions This Week

June 18, 2008 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo monitoring the military commission hearings scheduled to take place this week. The hearings of Omar Khadr and Mohammed Jawad are the first since the Supreme Court ruled last week that the Constitution applies to Guantánamo and that all 270 prisoners there can challenge their indefinite detention in federal court. The ACLU has been present as an independent observer at every commission hearing since 2004 and continues to see no indication that the proceedings are fair, impartial or in accordance with constitutional principles.

“Now that the Supreme Court has rejected the lawlessness of the Bush administration’s failed Guantánamo policy, the government has no excuse to allow this debacle to continue,” said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “With the eyes of the world watching these proceedings, the U.S. must stand up, reject this system and demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law.”

Tainted by political interference, the proceedings have also 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.

Khadr’s hearing was cancelled today, but has been rescheduled for tomorrow morning. Last month, the Pentagon abruptly dismissed the judge in Khadr’s case, Army Col. Peter Brownback. According to Khadr’s lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, the timing of the judge’s removal was suspicious because Brownback had recently threatened to suspend the case if prosecutors refused to hand over important records about Khadr’s confinement to defense lawyers. Also last month, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the legal system under which Khadr was detained and prosecuted at Guantánamo violated international law.

“The events of the past several weeks have made it clearer than ever that Guantánamo is collapsing and ought to be shut down for good. There is no time like the present to scrap this farce and make a fresh start in America’s tried and true civilian or military courts where the Constitution still counts for something,” said Dakwar.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Now 21, he is charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support and espionage. In a signed, nine-page affidavit, Khadr charges that he was repeatedly threatened with rape during interrogations while held both in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay.

Jawad’s lawyer is seeking the dismissal of charges against him and will be calling Col. Morris Davis, the military commissions’ former chief prosecutor, to testify about command influence and political interference from the Pentagon in the prosecution of the commission cases. Jawad, 23, in custody since being captured at the age of 17, has told U.S. military officials that he falsely confessed to alleged crimes after being beaten and tortured following his capture and incarceration by Afghan police in 2002.

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 from Guantánamo this week with his comments and observations from the hearings on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, which can be found at: blog.aclu.org

Additional information about the ACLU’s involvement surrounding the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay can be found online at: www.aclu.org/gitmo


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