Monday, February 11, 2008

Scrutiny of Guantanamo trials is welcome

The New York Times this morning was full of alarmed commentary about military prosecutors’ decision to seek the death penalty for the six men being charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks. To wit, the military commission system isn’t ready for trials of this magnitude and seeking the death penalty will bring “intense scrutiny and criticism” from abroad. I am far from a supporter of Guantanamo or the military commissions. To the contrary, I oppose both. Nonetheless, echoing the words of our commander in chief, I say: bring it on. After all of the misadventures on which our government has led us in the name of pursuing vengeance for 9/11, and out of all the people that it has held as alleged terrorists, if this prison camp and these commissions are meant to be used for anything, they should be used to try those whom the government believes to have been central to the 9/11 plot. And if we are going to hold trials under these conditions, outside of our ordinary justice system, of men who have been waterboarded and worse, then “intense scrutiny and criticism” of these trials from the rest of the world is perhaps some minimum guarantee of – if not due process – then at least public accountability for any failings in that regard. The Pentagon says the defendants will have all the rights and protections of our servicewomen and men and that these trials will be held openly and transparently. I hope so. And if not, I hope that we’ll all raise hell about it, both we concerned citizens here and our allies abroad.


Diane Marie Amann said...

Excellent & thought-provoking points, Elena!

Naomi Norberg said...

I, too, say, "bring on the scrutiny!" in the hope that the military commissions and the entire separate system for "illegal" enemy combattants, as well as the death penalty, will wither under it.

By the way, I just read on William Schabas' blog for his PhD students at the Irish Centre for Human Rights that Robert Badinter, former French justice minister responsible for abolishing the death penalty, has filed an amicus brief (joined by Schabas) in the Omar Khadr case arguing that Khadr should receive protection as a child soldier (see

Charles Letterman said...

I am far from being a libertarian. I believe prisons should be hard places where punishment and reform are being dished out in equal measure. I believe life should mean life. However, I also believe in fair trials and that torture, in whatever form, has no place in civilised society.

At the same time as US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff promises a fair trial for Guantanamo prisoners accused of organising the 9/11 attacks, the CIA admits torture in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. No words of mine can express the horror of 9/11, but by committing acts of torture, the US authorities have sunk as low as the barbarians who plotted and carried out the attack on New York.

And Michael Chertoff's definition of a 'fair trial' is interesting. A conviction can be gained by a two-thirds vote, not unanimity as in a US jury trial. The jury is made up of military officers not members of the public. The 'evidence', including hearsay and some obtained by coercion, will be allowed, "if the military judge determines that the evidence would have probative value to a reasonable person".

And some evidence will be not released to the accused or his representatives if it is deemed to contain classified information. Neither is the accused protected by the Geneva conventions. Groups like Amnesty International, who would release the most fairly convicted paedophile back into the playground with a slap on the wrist and bag of sweets, are quite rightly having a field day with this blatant infringement of human rights.

Someone will be found guilty for 9/11. The US demands it, and will be extremely selective in both its morals and laws as to how that guilt and punishment is apportioned.

Diane Marie Amann said...

FYI, here's the link to the DOD's press release: