President Obama Signs Military Commissions Changes Into Law

October 28, 2009 12:00 am

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Fatally Flawed System Is Beyond Repair, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON – President Obama today signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes significant changes to the Guantánamo military commissions. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on the Obama administration to abandon the fatally flawed military commissions system and, where evidence of terrorism crimes exists, try the Guantánamo detainees in federal courts.

The NDAA makes improvements to the military commissions but fails to bring those tribunals in line with the U.S. Constitution and international law under the Geneva Conventions. It continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions and does not prohibit military commission trials of children. The new law does, however, for the first time require experienced capital defense attorneys in death penalty cases, authorize more resources for defense counsel, impose new limitations on the use of hearsay and coerced testimony and afford greater access to witnesses and evidence for defendants.

The ACLU firmly believes that the military commissions should be shut down for good as they remain a second class system of justice that cannot shed the shameful legacy of Guantánamo and all it stands for, rendering their results open to question.

The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project:

"It will be a shame if the law that the president signed today gives new life to the military commissions. The Obama administration has committed to closing the prison at Guantánamo, but closing the prison will have little meaning if the administration leaves in place the policies that the prison has come to represent.

"While the new law addresses some of the defects of the military commissions, it fails to bring the tribunals in line with the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. The commissions remain not only illegal but unnecessary - the federal courts have proven themselves capable of handling complex terrorism cases while protecting both the government's national security interests and the defendants' rights to a fair trial."

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