First Published: 2006-09-30

 
US law keeps most at Guantanamo out of court
 

New tribunal system bars 455 Guantanamo prisoners from challenging detention in US courts.

 

Middle East Online

By Jane Sutton – MIAMI

Innocence is irrelevant over there

A new US plan to try suspects at Guantanamo would grant a few more rights to prisoners charged with war crimes but strip away all legal recourse for the majority who will never face charges.

Congress approved legislation on Thursday to create a new tribunal system to try foreign captives at the US naval base on Cuba. President George W. Bush was expected to quickly sign a bill his administration says is crucial in bringing to justice men like alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

But it also bars the 455 Guantanamo prisoners from challenging their detention in the US court system, and throws out hundreds of lawsuits already filed by detainees asking to see the evidence that has kept many incarcerated at Guantanamo for more than four years.

"Now you've got ... rules to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed and he gets all these protections and if you're not him, sorry," said Jumana Musa, an Amnesty International official.

Prisoners convicted of war crimes in the Guantanamo tribunals can still appeal their cases to the federal appeals court in Washington, and then the US Supreme Court.

But the military has long said that only about 75 of the Guantanamo detainees would ever be charged with war crimes.

"Their conduct warrants removing them from the battlefield, and keeping them off the battlefield, but is not so egregious that they should be held criminally liable," said Air Force Col. Moe Davis, chief prosecutor for the military tribunals.

The revised tribunal system partially addresses some objections raised by military defence lawyers who won a Supreme Court challenge declaring the original system unlawful.



SECRET EVIDENCE



The new version gives those charged with war crimes the right to dismiss their military lawyers and act as their own attorneys. It allows the accused and the jurors to see the same non-classified summaries of secret evidence -- the old system would have allowed jurors to see secret evidence not shown to the accused.

The new version makes it more difficult to obtain a conviction by requiring that at least five military officers serve on each tribunal. The old system permitted as few as three to render a verdict. Death penalty cases now require 12 jurors, up from seven under the old rules, and their sentencing decision would have to be unanimous.

"Basically what it's done is adopt the general rules of the court martial, with no less than five on a jury," Davis said. "To me it looks like a very workable, very fair system."

Military lawyers defending the 10 Guantanamo prisoners charged under the old system could not immediately be reached for comment.

Critics said the new law still left the door wide open for the use of hearsay evidence and statements obtained through coercion -- though not evidence obtained through torture -- so long as the judge finds the information relevant.

"This is crazy," said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. "We are permitting the use of evidence obtained by illegal coercion, if it's reliable and if some (military) judge thinks the interest of justice is served by it."

For detainees not charged in the war crimes tribunals, the only ticket out of Guantanamo is via diplomatic negotiations, or through annual reviews similar to parole hearings.

At those administrative hearings, three military officers question the prisoner and review files to determine if he is still a threat or possesses information useful in combating terrorism. No lawyers are involved and detainees are not allowed to see secret evidence against them.

 

Saudi Arabia replaces powerful intelligence chief

Invisible Bouteflika urges Algerians to vote

Egypt leftist leader urges all revolutionary groups to unite

Washington will not issue visa for Iran UN envoy

Algeria finally opens its piggybank to lure back exiled youth

Egypt jails ex-presidential hopeful for fraud

Jordan ‘destroyed’ combat vehicles entering from Syria

South Sudan army loses key oil town of Bentiu

Lebanon parliament soon to elect new president

Zarif to discuss Caspion Sea states in Russia

MERS spreading in Saudi Arabia

Suicide bombs rock Ramadi government compound

Three Palestinians killed in Gaza blast

Peace talks delayed after Palestine blamed for fatal shooting

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Al-Aqsa

Undercover New York police unit that spied on Muslims disbanded

British paedophile gets 20-year sentence in Morocco

Syria army fights its way into besieged Homs

Benflis mobilizes ‘army’ to monitor Algeria election

Syria army advances on rebel-held neighbourhoods in Homs

Egypt court bans any Brotherhood candidacies in upcoming elections

Turkey rights groups sound alarm at plan to build gay-only prisons

Kuwait coup plot video ‘neither genuine nor reliable’

Iraq Kurdistan digs trench to prevent militant infiltration from Syria

Saudi urges stern world action against Syria

Zarif mission to mend Iran-Gulf ties begins in UAE

Results of Egypt vote appear before time in collection of signatures

South Sudan rebels demand firms end oil production

Jordan court sentences Syrian smugglers to five years in prison

Security concerns force Iraq to shut notorious Abu Ghraib prison

Turkey to social media companies: Open offices and pay taxes

Bashir bans political party meetings without permission

Shoes thrown at Jordan PM for ‘raising prices’

Jordan envoy to Libya abducted

US condemns ‘unconscionable’ threats against Libyan PM

Assailants attack Bahrain police car with Molotov cocktails

Bomb attack targets security checkpoint in Cairo

US takes issue with Assad’s upper hand claim

Militants close Iraq's Euphrates River dam

How did Bouteflika's 15 years in power bring corruption to Algeria?

Libya court adjourns trial of ex-Gathafi officials

Iran complains to UN over US visa ban to chosen envoy

Twitter executives meet Turkish officials amid tax evasion accusations

UN rights chief condemns ‘routine’ use of torture in Syria

Egypt's Sisi officially submits bid for president