The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rights Group Urges Stay of KSM Military Commission Proceedings


Human Rights First
urges military judge Stephen Henley to stay the military commission
proceedings in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's case today in light of his and
his co-defendant's request to plead guilty.

"Allowing these
pleas to go forward in proceedings that are widely viewed around the
world to be inherently unjust would be a hollow and short-sighted
victory for the government," says Elisa Massimino, Executive Director
of Human Rights First. "Ultimately it would undermine the ability of
the United States to obtain legitimate justice for the 9/11 attacks in our ordinary criminal courts."

The accused announced their intention to plead guilty at a pretrial hearing in Guantanamo
early this morning. Judge Henley should make a full inquiry into the
circumstances surrounding their request. Should he refuse to accept the
pleas, it is unlikely the case will be tried before President-elect
Obama takes office in January 2009. Obama has vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Rights First has long condemned the military commissions, which permit
the use of coerced evidence and deny other fundamental due process
protections. In a blueprint for the incoming administration, Human
Rights First has called on Obama to suspend all pending military
commission cases and to try suspects being detained in Guantanamo Bay in federal criminal courts.

courts are up to the task of trying terrorism cases. In fact, the
federal courts have presided over cases implicating national security
for more than two centuries. In May, Human Rights First released "In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts,"
the most thorough examination to date of international terrorism
prosecutions brought in the federal courts. The report finds that
federal courts have proven to be highly adaptive and flexible in
delivering justice in complex terrorism cases, casting doubt on the
necessity of the competing mechanisms proposed to supplant them since

"Dozens of terrorist suspects have been successfully
prosecuted in recent years in our ordinary criminal courts, and many of
them are now serving life sentences in federal prison," said Devon
Chaffee, Advocacy Counsel for Human Rights First who is currently on
the ground at Guantanamo Bay.
"But these guilty pleas before the fundamentally flawed military
commissions system would bear none of the marks of finality and
fairness they would have borne if made in our criminal justice system,"
said Chaffee.

"Accepting guilty pleas in a discredited system
that is incapable of delivering justice will only further fuel
terrorist propaganda and hamper efforts to nurture democracy and the
rule of law around the world," said Massimino. "Adhering to the rule of
law is critical to confronting the threat of terrorism."

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.