have condemned the Bush administration's plan to proceed with secret
proceedings against 14 "high-value" terrorism suspects currently being
held at Guantanamo Bay. The suspects include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,
accused of organising the 11 September 2001 attacks.
The military tribunals, scheduled to begin tomorrow, will take place behind
closed doors and away from the scrutiny of the media. Hundreds of previous
hearings held to determine the formal status of the prisoners have been open
to reporters. None of the suspects will be able to have a lawyer present.
'A SYSTEM DESIGNED TO OBTAIN A PRE-DETERMINED RESULT'
Detainees sit together inside the medium security portion of Camp Delta detention center at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, Cuba April 6, 2006. U.S. military officials will start hearings on Friday for 14 prisoners transferred to Guantanamo Bay from secret CIA jails. REUTERS/Brennan Linsley/Pool
The Pentagon has said that the so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunals
(CSRT) are being held in secret to prevent the possible leaking of
classified information. But legal campaigners said the decision had been
taken to prevent the revelation of information embarrassing to the Bush
"They're not going to let anybody close," said Clive Stafford
Smith, of the UK-based group Reprieve, which represents several dozen
Guantanamo prisoners, though none of the 14. "They are trying to stop
anyone saying anything about the way they have been abused or which
countries they were abused in."
The 14 men - three Pakistanis, two Yemenis, two Saudis, two Malaysians, a
Palestinian, a Libyan, a Somali, an Indonesian and a Tanzanian - were
transferred to Guantanamo Bay last September from secret US "black site"
facilities around the world. At the time of their transfer, Mr Bush claimed: "
These are dangerous men, with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks
and their plans of new attacks. The security of our nation and the lives of
our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know."
In addition to Mr Mohammed, the prisoners include two other alleged senior
al-Qa'ida figures - Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh. Mr Mohammed was
described in the official US investigation into the September 11 attacks as
their "principal architect" and is also accused of involvement in
the murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl.
But campaigners insist that without a fair trial and access to lawyers it is
impossible to assess what the men may or may not be guilty of. Wells Dixon,
a lawyer with the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which
represents one of the men due to go before a CSRT, Majid Khan, said: "
This is a system designed to obtain a pre-determined result."
Mr Dixon said that Mr Bush had admitted the 14 men had been subjected to "
enhanced interrogation" techniques which he said was a euphemism for
torture. He added that under the CSRT rules the government could use
information obtained under torture. He added: "You don't know what is
true until you have given them a fair trial."
Mr Khan, 26, who was living in Baltimore, travelled to Pakistan in 2002 and
was seized by the authorities a year later. The US has accused Mr Khan of
having links to Mr Mohammed but his father last year told The Washington
Post: "He's a terrorist, my son? No. I don't accept this."
The Pentagon has said that transcripts of the proceedings will be made
available though they will be edited to remove information it deemed "
dangerous to national security". Spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "
[Security concerns exist] given the nature of these individuals and the
information that will be necessary as a part of these combatant status
The hearings are part of a process established by the Bush administration as
a means of complying with a provision of the Geneva Conventions that
requires a prisoner's status to be assessed by a "competent tribunal"
. Many campaigners argue that the CSRTs, involving a panel of three military
officers and a government-provided representative, do not constitute a
It was originally assumed the hearings would be open to the media, providing
the first public appearance of Mr Mohammed and the other prisoners since
before their arrests. The only independent visitors to have seen the men are
observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). An ICRC
spokesman, Simon Schorno, said the organisation was bound not to speak about
the circumstances of the individuals, but added: "We don't believe
there is an appropriate legal framework for these detentions. The lack of a
clear legal framework has clearly had an impact on [the prisoners'] mental
Campaigners have long been fighting for the prisoners to be brought to trial
or else released. They appeared to have won a victory last summer when the
Supreme Court ruled that they had the right to challenge their detention.
However, the Bush administration passed new legislation to circumvent the
There are currently 385 prisoners being held at Guantanamo, around 80 of
whom have been cleared for release. While Mr Bush says he would like to
close the prison his administration pushed ahead with the building of a $30m
(£15.5m) maximum-security prison block, Camp 6, which opened last autumn.
Just 10 prisoners have been formally charged.
The main suspects
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Allegedly al-Qai'da's number three, Mohammed is accused of being the
architect behind the September 11 attacks. A playboy and a committed
jihadist, he has been in US custody since 2003. Raised in Kuwait, the US
says he was involved in the 2002 Bali bomb attacks and the murder of the US
journalist Dan Pearl.
The nephew of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed is also regarded as one of the key
plotters of the September 11 attacks. A former bank clerk from Yemen, he was
the first person to be publicly identified as the "20th hijacker".
He shared a room with the hijacker leader Muhammad Atta in Germany and was
apprehended in Pakistan in 2002.
Already sentenced to death in absentia in Jordan, Zubaydah was allegedly one
of Osma bin Laden's key lieutenants and al-Qa'ida's chief of operations in
the late 90s. A Saudi national, Zubaydah has been implicated in the planning
of numerous terrorist plots, including the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. He
was captured in Pakistan in 2002.
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited