ACLU Praises Court Ruling Invalidating Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions

November 8, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU Praises Court Ruling Invalidating Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions


Bush Administration Wrongly Denied Protections of Geneva Conventions, Court Says

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a federal court decision declaring invalid, for at least one of the detainees, the ad hoc military commission proceedings convened to try suspected al Qaeda and Taliban fighters held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“Today’s decision sends a clear message that the fight against terrorism does not give the government license to disregard domestic and international law,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “As we have said all along, our own soldiers will have to suffer the consequences if the United States denies prisoner-of-war protection under the Geneva Conventions. We are gratified that the court has recognized this important legal and moral principle.”

The ruling was issued today by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who has been held largely incommunicado at the Guantánamo Bay naval base for close to three years. Hamdan is one of a handful of detainees who have been designated by the Defense Department as eligible for trial by a military commission set up by the President to try persons captured in Afghanistan.

The ruling centers on the fact that under the Geneva Conventions, battlefield combatants are entitled to a hearing to determine whether they are entitled to prisoner-of-war status. The Bush administration, however, continues to ignore this requirement.

The military commissions at issue in today’s court ruling have also come under repeated fire from the ACLU and other human rights groups for their ad hoc nature and lack of procedural protections.

To name only a few of the groups’ complaints: the translation provided detainees has been amateurish; defense counsel has continually operated with fewer resources than the prosecution; the three-person panel that decides the case contains only one lawyer; and the panel can consider secret evidence and hearsay, as well as evidence elicited during preliminary “enemy combatant status review” hearings that come without any due process protections and where the defendant has no legal representation whatsoever.

Today’s challenge was brought by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Hamdan’s appointed counsel. Swift has not only tried to defend Hamdan in the actual commission proceedings, but has challenged the constitutional basis for the system writ large. The ruling today is a clear vindication of that challenge.

The ACLU and other rights groups have been observing the commissions since they resumed last week. ACLU attorneys have been posting their observations and criticisms in a weblog at

Further details of today’s dramatic events will be recounted by ACLU attorney Jamil Dakwar in his weblog posting tomorrow. For further information, including a link to an ACLU report on the problems with the commissions, go to

The court ruling in the case is online at

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