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.

 

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Key oil producers face uncertain outlook in 2015

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

From bikini to Jihad in Ceuta, Melilla

Tunisia votes Sunday in second round of presidential poll

Islamist militias launch air strike near key Libyan oil terminals

Egypt refers 312 Islamists to military courts

Turkey rejects EU criticism over media arrests

Kerry meets chief Palestinian negotiator

Saudi cleric sparks uproar for showing wife’s face

15,000 march against country’s ‘Islamisation’ in eastern Germany

Gulf stock markets tumble

Australia mourns Sydney cafe siege victims

Hostages flee as police storm Sydney café

Erdogan to EU: Mind your own business!

Syria PM in Iran for talks with key ally

22 Swiss jihadists fighting abroad

#illridewithyou: Australians stand in solidarity with Muslims

Sydney siege 'lone wolf' or IS-led attack?

EU support UN efforts for Aleppo ceasefire

Saudi policeman killed in Riyadh hostage-taking

Saudi king receives Jordan monarch

Palestinians push UN bid to end Israeli occupation

Hostages held in Sydney cafe, Islamic flag held up

Hamas stages show of strength to mark 27th anniversary

France 'neutralised' 200 jihadists in Sahel region of West Africa

Kerry in Rome ahead of Palestinian push at UN

Drive-by shooting kills two Egypt policemen in Sinai Peninsula

Libya pro-government forces push back Islamist fighters

Wave of arrests targets Gulen supporters in Turkey

Security Council fails and Bashir declares victory!

UAE calls on Arabs to invest in future amid ‘rapid changes’

Dawn collision kills more than 10 Egypt fishermen in Gulf of Suez

ICC prosecutor suspends investigations into Darfur war crimes

Libya Islamists form new coalition ahead of expected assault

Sudan minister announces new army offensive against rebels

Yemen troops kill five Qaeda suspects disguised as women

Sea of devotees descends on Karbala in defiance of jihadist threats

Palestinian shot after throwing acid at Israeli family

Saudi to build Africa’s tallest building in Morocco