ACLU's Romero Calls Government's Policies on Guantánamo 'Fundamentally Lawless'

March 9, 2004 12:00 am

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ACLU’s Romero Calls Government’s Policies on Guantánamo ‘Fundamentally Lawless’

U.S. Veterans and Families of Guantánamo Detainees
Join Romero in Briefing After Newsmaker Address

Anthony Romero Speech

WASHINGTON — At a National Press Club “Newsmaker” luncheon, Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, charged that Bush Administration policies in a post-9/11 world jeopardize the freedom of all Americans. U.S. government detentions of enemy combatants at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, violate America’s most basic notions of fundamental fairness, he said.

“Hundreds of people called enemy combatants by the U.S. government languish in legal limbo at Guantánamo Bay,” Romero said. “With no access to the courts, or legal counsel, these policies are fundamentally lawless and trespass on our most deeply held values of fairness and basic due process.”

Immediately following the Newsmaker speech, the ACLU held a press briefing with several families of men detained at Guantánamo. The families are from Great Britain, France and Germany. Also present at the briefing and sharing ACLU’s concerns that the government’s policies are violating U.S. and international laws were Michael T. McPhearson, a Persian Gulf War veteran, and Ellen Barfield, an Army veteran who is currently Vice-President of Veterans for Peace.

“As a former combat veteran I am deeply concerned that the U.S. government’s policies at Guantánamo will place our troops currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan into harm’s way,” McPhearson said. “If the U.S. fails to honor and uphold its legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions that declare specific legal protections for prisoners of war, what is to stop other nations from mistreating our servicemenbers who may be captured in the future?”

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that detainees may be held indefinitely, even if eventually charged and acquitted. Indeed, he has also said that if the government determines that any individual is a continuing threat, detainees may be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. More than 600 people from 44 countries, including teenagers, are being held by the U.S. at Guantánamo.

The ACLU is part of a broad-based coalition that filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Guantánamo detainees.

Romero spoke about the recent legal complaint saying that “this isn’t about serving terrorists with legal papers, as President Bush said. This is about serving people not charged with justice, demonstrating conduct, procedures and principles befitting one of the great democracies in the world.”

The brief calls for a review of the legality of the government’s detention of these prisoners and argues that under the terms of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights they cannot be detained indefinitely at Guantanamo without some review of their legal status. Arguments on Guantanamo procedures are scheduled for arguments before the Supreme Court on April 20th. In a related matter, the Supreme Court is scheduled on April 28th to review the President’s authority to designate an American citizen an enemy combatant and detain him indefinitely. The Court is expected to render decisions on both legal matters by the end of the term in June.

Romero took the helm of the ACLU in September 2001, a week before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Recognizing the risks to America’s freedoms with the passage of the Patriot Act, he has led the organization in a nationwide initiative asserting that America can be both safe and free. Romero, an attorney with a history of public-interest activism, also presided over the most successful membership drive in the ACLU’s 82-year history. In his first year, 75,000 individuals became card-carrying members of the organization for the first time, with membership now exceeding 400,000.

The ACLU has also published a new report that details how a series of policy directives by the Bush Administration has created a “parallel” system of justice in America – a system that fails to provide the safeguards necessary to ensure due process: /conductunbecoming

A news release about the Guantánamo case is online at: /node/14725

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