House Hears Testimony On Unconstitutional Guantanamo Military Commissions

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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

House Hears Testimony On Unconstitutional Guantanamo Military Commissions

Issue Also Pending In Senate Defense Authorization Bill

WASHINGTON -
The
House Armed Services Committee will hear testimony today from a panel
of Judge Advocates General about proposed changes to the
unconstitutional Guantanamo military commissions. The hearing is
entitled, "Prosecuting Law of War Violations: Reforming the Military
Commissions Act of 2006."
 
The
Military Commissions Act of 2006 created the Guantanamo military
commissions which allow coerced confessions and hearsay evidence to be
used in detainee trials. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the
first version of the military commissions was 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.
 
“The
military commissions fly in the face of the most basic principles of
our democracy and justice system,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior
Legislative Counsel. “The military commissions were set up to
circumvent both the law and the Constitution to achieve easy
convictions, not to provide justice. The Justice Department has
successfully prosecuted in federal criminal courts more than 200
defendants in international terrorism cases for crimes committed both
before and after 9/11; the Guantanamo military commissions have
convicted only three. The president and Congress should end this
experimental system and use the same federal courts that convict
criminals every day.”
 
The
Senate is currently working on a defense authorization bill that could
include provisions addressing changes to the military commissions.
Yesterday, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request
demanding disclosure of a May 2009 legal memo from the Justice
Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reportedly addressing the
constitutional rights that Guantánamo detainees could legally claim
during military commission proceedings in the U.S. The memo reportedly
also addresses the admissibility of statements obtained through
coercion in those proceedings. However, the OLC memo has not been made
available to the Senators who are debating changes to the military
commissions system.
 
"There
is no excuse for the administration to withhold from the Senate a legal
opinion that concludes that the bill on the Senate floor may be
unconstitutional” said Anders. "Without having a crucial piece of the
puzzle, Congress could vote as early as next week to make
unconstitutional changes to the Guantánamo military commissions,
potentially allowing forced confessions to be admitted into evidence.
Congress and the American people must be fully informed of the
administration’s legal position. The Justice Department should not be
hiding the ball from Congress or the American people.”
To
read a coalition letter to the Senate regarding the military commission
language in the National Defense Authorization Act, go to: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/40345leg20090716.html
 
The ACLU's FOIA request is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/40312lgl20090715.html
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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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