Senate Holds Hearing On Continuation Of Fatally Flawed Military Commissions

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312; media@dcaclu.org

Senate Holds Hearing On Continuation Of Fatally Flawed Military Commissions

Use Of “Coerced Evidence” Makes Them Unconstitutional, Says ACLU

WASHINGTON -
The
Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing today on the
proposed continuation of the controversial Guantánamo military
commissions system. The chairman of the committee, Senator Carl Levin
(D-MI), has inserted language related to military commissions into the
current Senate draft of the Defense Authorization bill and President
Obama has recently declared his intention to revive the fatally flawed
commissions after suspending them by executive order his first day in
office.
 
In
addition, the American Civil Liberties Union is scheduled to testify on
military commissions at a separate hearing before the House Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties
Wednesday morning.
 
“The
military commissions are unconstitutional and were created not to
enforce the law but to circumvent it,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU
Senior Legislative Counsel. “Bringing back the military commissions
would signal to the rest of the world that the United States continues
to flout the rule of law.”
 
The
U.S. Supreme Court ruled the first version of the Bush administration’s
military commissions illegal. President Obama, as a candidate, took the
position that the second and current version of the military
commissions, as implemented through the Military Commissions Act,
should be rejected, but he is now pushing Congress to help revive these
proceedings with certain changes.
 
While
both the president’s proposal and the new legislation passed by the
Senate Armed Services Committee would bar evidence obtained through
torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, they would still
allow for the admission of other “coerced evidence.” That means that
forced confessions and hearsay evidence that would be barred from every
U.S. courtroom and court-martial would still be admissible. By
contrast, the Constitution, the Federal Rules of Evidence used in
federal criminal courts, and rules for military courts-martial prohibit
all evidence obtained by coercion. The Wall Street Journal and the New
York Times reported last week that a recent undisclosed Justice
Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion concluded that the use of
coerced evidence in at least some military commission proceedings would
be unconstitutional.
 
”The
military commissions are fatally flawed and no amount of tinkering will
fix them,” Anders added. “The system is set up to ensure convictions,
not give defendants an impartial hearing. When the military commissions
stack the deck against a fair trial, how can we trust their outcomes?”
 
In
addition to being unconstitutional, the military commissions are
unnecessary. Under our criminal justice system, the government already
has sufficient tools at its disposal to prosecute terrorism suspects,
including a wide array of criminal laws that even prohibit activities
that are often only remotely related to terrorism. Civilian and
military courts are perfectly capable of dealing with classified
evidence and protecting national security while also providing
fundamental rights. The United States has successfully prosecuted more
than 200 defendants in international terrorism cases in federal courts
for crimes committed both before and after 9/11. By comparison, only
three terrorism suspects were successfully prosecuted in the military
commissions system at Guantánamo.
 
“President
Obama put an end to the use of torture and abuse because he knew that
it was contrary to our most fundamental values. Yet the president and
Congress are now considering allowing forced confessions – the fruit of
some of those very same practices – to be used against defendants,”
said Anders. “Under the new legislation, involuntary confessions forced
out of witnesses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other torture sites
could be used to convict people. Due process cannot exist when we allow
hearsay and coerced evidence in our courtrooms, and justice cannot
exist without due process. The military commissions must be shut down
for good if America is to repair its legacy as an international beacon
of human rights and civil liberties.”
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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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