Gitmo's "Improvised Justice" as Accused 9/11 Planner Dons "Prisoner of War" Attire

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Common Dreams

Gitmo's "Improvised Justice" as Accused 9/11 Planner Dons "Prisoner of War" Attire

Court rulings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Salim Hamdan expose trappings of military commision

by
Common Dreams staff

Court drawing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during Guantanamo pretrial hearing. (Drawing by Janet Hamlin / AP)

Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed appeared at the pretrial hearing on Wednesday dressed in a woodland camouflage vest over his white tunic. His change in attire came after Mohammed's lawyers argued that he considered himself a "prisoner of war" and, as the Los Angeles Times reported, because "he belonged to the mujahedeen militias that the United States financed to overthrow the Soviet-backed communist regime in Afghanistan, he was entitled to wear the camouflage."

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, had ruled on Tuesday that he would allow Mohammed to wear the uniform as long as it did not include US military insignia or pose a security problem. “I mean, who really cares?” said the judge, though he had previously forbidden the garb.

Only Mohammed and another defendant—of the five facing trial—were present at the hearings on Wednesday after Pohl ruled earlier this week that defendants could voluntarily choose not to attend each day's proceedings, wrote AP.

The Judge told the courtroom Wednesday morning that he would rule on the protective order "probably later today." The classification is one of the primary issues being discussed during this week's pretrial, as it treats any discussion of what happened to the defendants during their torture and detention in CIA custody as a top national security secret.

Badly improvised charges, like improvised dress codes, are what you get when you choose a made-up pseudo-court with military trappings over the fairly solid civilian system we’ve built up over more than two centuries.
-The New Yorker's Amy Davidson

In a related matter, on Tuesday a Washington federal appeals court overturned the conviction of Salim Hamdan, former driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan had been serving a prison term for 'material support of terrorism.' According to AP, the appeals court ruling said, "material support for terrorism was not a war crime under international law at the time Hamdan engaged in the activity for which he was convicted." Hamdan—who has been in custody for six years—was sentenced to five and a half years and was, hence, released.

"If the government wanted to charge Hamdan with aiding and abetting terrorism or some other war crime that was sufficiently rooted in the international law of war at the time of Hamdan's conduct, it should have done so," wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The question remaining is whether or not the military commissions are capable of successfully trying these prisoners. Hamdan's ruling has drawn attention because it may dramatically affect other pending prosecutions of individuals charged under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

New Yorker writer Amy Davidson writes:

Badly improvised charges, like improvised dress codes, are what you get when you choose a made-up pseudo-court with military trappings over the fairly solid civilian system we’ve built up over more than two centuries.

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