In Terror Case, Debate Renewed Over Tribunals

Five accused 9/11 terrorists including admitted architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be arraigned Saturday at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in what some have called the “prosecutions of the century.” The proceedings are renewing debate over the removal of the case to a military tribunal from a federal courtroom.

A Reuters article previewing the upcoming proceedings noted that “the tribunals have been criticized as a second-class system, rigged to convict, since they were first authorized in 2001.”

Charges lodged against five codefendants  were dropped in 2009 when the Obama administration planned to close the military detention facility in Cuba, eliminate the military commission process for trying terror suspects and prosecute the five in civilian courts in New York. Under a backlash of bipartisan opposition, however, that plan was withdrawn (see Gavel Grab). The charges were refiled last June.

A lengthy and ardent criticism of the upcoming military tribunal proceeding in Salon this week was written by Morris Davis, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was chief prosecutor for the military commission at Guantanamo Bay from 2005-2007.

“The truth is the reason the apologists want a second-rate military commission option is because of what we did to the detainees, not because of what the detainees did to us,” Davis argued.

“This is not about the exigencies of the battlefield and the problems our soldiers face trying to fight a war; this is about torture, coercion, rendition and a decade or more in confinement without an opportunity to confront the evidence – abuses that would have us up in arms if done to an American citizen by some other country – that make the tarnished military commissions uniquely suited to try and accommodate the small category of cases where we crossed over to the dark side.”

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act and other policies have weakened the historic power of courts to protect our rights and check possible government abuses, Justice at Stake says on its web site. To learn more, see Justice at Stake’s “Courting Danger” report.

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