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.

 

Gunmen kidnap 17 Turks in Iraq capital

US carries out secret drone campaign in Syria

Lebanon protesters escalate “You Stink” campaign

Car bomb kills 10 in Syria regime bastion Latakia

Syria war takes its toll on heritage riches

Saudi top cleric slams Iran prophet movie

Iran police to confiscate cars of 'poorly veiled' women

Libya's Tripoli authorities undecided on joining peace talks

Turkey transfers British reporters to new jail

Two Yemeni Red Cross staff killed

Qatar to begin enforcing key labour reform law from November

Turkey government says it 'had no role' in reporters' arrest

IS claims Tripoli car bomb near oil firm

Dispute with Israel government keeps Christian schools shut

Kuwait charges 24 'linked to Iran' with plotting attacks

Turkey police raid anti-Erdogan media group after British reporters jailed

New Turkey caretaker government holds first meeting

Dozens of Lebanon protesters occupy environment ministry

Shebab attack Somalia AU base

Will Erdogan's political gamble solve Turkey poll impasse?

UN confirms Palmyra temple destroyed

Over 10,000 Icelanders ready to welcome Syrians

Libya loyalist forces battle IS jihadists in Benghazi

South Sudan peace deal in jeopardy

Pressure builds on Europe as refugee crisis exposes splits

Israel confirms jail for Druze ex-MP over visit to Syria

Egypt much delayed elections to start on October 17

Palmyra temple appears ‘largely intact’ after ISIS blast

Turkey to offer cash rewards for tips on ‘terrorists’

Yemen children's hospital on the verge of shutting down

In gruesome video, ISIS shows burning alive of Iraq Shiite fighters

Four years after famine, situation in Somalia remains alarming

A year on, recapture of Yazidi hub remains a distant prospect

IS jihadists move closer than ever to central Damascus

EU leaders call for action to defend migrants’ 'dignity'

IS blows up parts of famed Palmyra temple

Deadly fire at housing complex of Aramco in Saudi Arabia

In historic first, Saudi Arabia allows women to run in local elections

Israel repels protesters with tear gas at separation barrier in West Bank

ISIS brutality in Syria: Over 90 people executed in one month

Bashir to visit China despite international arrest warrant

Egypt summons British envoy in row over Al-Jazeera trial

Yemen war seeks to stop ‘Iran expansion’ in Arab region

Lebanon protesters to government: Meet our demands of face escalation

Calls for action on refugee crisis mount after Austrian tragedy