ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commissions This Week

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rachel Myers, (207) 409-5509; media@aclu.org

ACLU Monitoring Unconstitutional Guantánamo Military Commissions This Week

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The
American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo this week monitoring
the unconstitutional military commission hearings in the case of Omar
Khadr, the 22-year-old Canadian national slated to be tried for war
crimes allegedly committed when he was 15. If Khadr's trial goes
forward as scheduled on January 26, the U.S. will be the first western
nation in recent years to hold a war crimes trial for crimes allegedly
committed by a juvenile. The ACLU and other rights groups sent a letter
to President-elect Obama on January 12 asking him to suspend Khadr's
trial.

The ACLU's Jamil Dakwar and Denny
Leboeuf will be observing today's proceedings, which are expected to
cover Khadr's re-arraignment. Another matter that might be addressed in
today's proceedings is the competency of Ramzi bin al Shibh, a
co-defendant of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the 9/11 case. In December,
the Convening Authority of the Military Commissions Office
"re-referred" the charges against the 9/11 and other detainees, paving
the way for new arraignments. This unusual move may require the four
other defendants, in addition to bin al Shibh, to be present in court
today, although the military commission judge has said he will not
accept pleas.

In a separate, habeas corpus case in
federal court, Judge Emmett Sullivan ordered that a defense mental
health expert be granted access to bin al Shibh "forthwith. And by
'forthwith' I mean tomorrow." Judge Sullivan said it was "the
antithesis of justice" to detain a man for six years without access to
his own psychological expert. Allegations have been made in open court
that bin al Shibh is psychotic, a result of or affected by torture
inflicted while he was in CIA custody. Judge Sullivan declined to order
the military commission proceedings halted, as he felt it was not
within his jurisdiction, but he did refer to Guantánamo as "that
hellhole" and said the incoming administration should shut it down.

Tainted by political interference,
the Guantánamo military commission proceedings have been marred by
ethical and legal problems from day one. Just last week, Susan
Crawford, head of the Office of Military Commissions (OMC), admitted
that she refused to refer the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani's to trial
because "we tortured [him]." It is well-known that al-Qahtani's case
was not an aberration, and that other detainees whose cases are being
prosecuted were also subject to torture and abuse. On Friday, following
Crawford's comments, Air Force Col. Peter Masciola, chief defense
counsel of the OMC, sent a letter to Crawford requesting that she
withdraw all Guantánamo cases currently being prosecuted.

Through its John Adams Project, the
ACLU, in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense
Lawyers, is sponsoring civilian lawyers to assist the under-resourced
military defense counsel representing Guantánamo detainees, including
those accused in the 9/11 attacks. The ACLU has been present as an
independent observer at nearly every commission hearing since 2004 and
continues to see no indication that the proceedings are fair, impartial
or in accordance with constitutional principles.

On Friday, the ACLU called upon the
U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Special
Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to intervene in order to
prevent Khadr's case from going forward. The same day, the U.N. Special
Representative's office responded that "the trial of Omar Khadr will be
a bad precedent and will undermine international legal protection for
children" and volunteered to pass on the request to President-elect
Obama's transition team. The ACLU's letter is available at: www.aclu.org/intlhumanrights/nationalsecurity/38360res20090115.html

The ACLU's letter to President-elect Obama seeking the suspension of Khadr's trial is available at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/38285res20090112.html

More information on the ACLU's work to shut down Guantánamo and the military commissions can be found online at: www.closegitmo.com

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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