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.

 

Obama increases US military presence in Iraq

11 Egypt policemen killed in Sinai bomb blast

US army back in Somalia

Paris, Riyadh 'finalising' $3bn Lebanon arms deal

Sudan orders Iran to close cultural centres

Syria arrests pro-regime activists over criticism

Libya pro-Islamist figure presents rival cabinet lineup

Israel faces mounting criticism over Palestinian land grab

Saudi Arabia arrests 88 suspected extremists in 'anti-terror' drive

New UN chief for South Sudan faces ‘huge challenge’

New government in Yemen plus cut in fuel prices

US air strikes target senior Shebab officials in Somalia

‘Scourge of terrorism’ pushes Africa to intensify cooperation

Relatives of missing Iraq soldiers storm parliament in Baghdad

IS accused of 'systematic ethnic cleansing' in Iraq

UK announces tougher measures against Britons planning jihad

Algeria hosts new round of Mali peace talks

US launches new round of air strikes around Iraq dam

Turkey summons US charge d'affaires over Snowden claims

Turkey new PM promises peace with Kurds

Will UN Human Rights Council investigate IS abuses?

Iran convicts Ahmadinejad's vice president for embezzlement

Fierce clashes shatter uneasy calm near armistice line in Golan Heights

Turkey detains dozens of police in new nationwide raids

Libya loses control of Tripoli to Islamist-led militias

Thousands of Huthis defy UN in new show of strength

Iraq presses fightback against jihadist-led militants

Wounded Gazans need long-term care

Britain to go tougher on jihadist suspects

Libyan Islamist militiamen control US embassy compound

Israel shoots down drone over occupied Golan Heights

Yemen army suffers heavy losses in new wave of Qaeda attacks

Turkish army breaks silence on Kurdish peace talks

Islamic State offers grim inspiration to African extremists

Shebab target intelligence HQ in Somalia

Israel expropriates 988 acres of Palestinian land in West Bank

Iraq recaptures Amerli from Islamic State in biggest success so far

Saudi King calls for ‘strong and rapid action’ against jihadists

Jihadists distribute Yazidi women as spoils of war to fighters

Gulf countries resolve six-month dispute with Qatar

Egypt reduces Badie death sentence to life in prison

AU forces liberate former Shebab stronghold in Somalia

Philippines enters war in Syria!

Kurds put aside old rivalries to battle jihadists in Iraq

Iran says new sanctions cast doubt on US sincerity