House Hears Government Testimony On Unconstitutional Military Commissions

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

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

House Hears Government Testimony On Unconstitutional Military Commissions

WASHINGTON - The
House Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing today on the
proposed continuation of the controversial Guantánamo military
commission system. The system, which allows coerced confessions and
hearsay evidence to be admitted during trial, is being discussed by two
government witnesses: Jeh Johnson, General Counsel for the Department
of Defense (DOD) and David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for
National Security, who both testified earlier this month before the
Senate Armed Services Committee. After immediately suspending the
military commissions upon taking office in January, President Obama is
now moving toward reviving the unconstitutional system.

 
“The
military commission system directly violates America’s most basic
principles of democracy and justice,” said Michael W. Macleod-Ball,
Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “A court
system set up solely to achieve easy convictions is not a system we can
trust. The United States criminal justice system has proven itself
perfectly capable of overseeing terrorism cases and our federal courts
have tried and convicted over 200 international terrorism crimes. By
contrast, the military commissions have only successfully tried and
convicted three. Continuing this deeply flawed and fundamentally unfair
system would continue to undermine our country’s commitment to the rule
of law.”
 
The
constitutional rights of detainees in military commission trials have
been a point of contention between the Justice Department and the
Department of Defense. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on
Capitol Hill about the Guantánamo military commissions earlier this
month, Kris testified that the Constitution's Due Process Clause would
indeed apply to military commission trials. Defense Department
officials, however, have long sought to deny Guantánamo detainees due
process rights in order to facilitate convictions through coerced
evidence.
 
Last
week, 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 was not made
available to Congress as it debated changes to the military commissions
system.
 
On
Thursday night, the Senate passed its version of the defense
authorization bill that includes provisions addressing changes to the
military commissions. The House version was voted on earlier this
month. The bills will be reconciled during conference sometime in the
next month.
 
"The
Justice Department has already testified that the Due Process Clause of
the Constitution applies to military commissions and that the use of
coerced evidence would likely be found unconstitutional. But the
defense authorization bill passed by the Senate Thursday night violates
this provision of the Constitution. It is time for Congress and the
administration to focus on what they were elected to do and enforce our
Constitution rather than continuing a system that erodes our rule of
law,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel.
“Furthermore, hiding Justice Department legal opinions from Congress
and the American public was an unacceptable tactic of the Bush
administration that the Obama administration should not be repeating.”
 
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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