Tuesday, July 22, 2008

1st Gitmo trial begins

After years of litigation that included a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court -- see Hamdan v. Rumsfeld -- a military commission at Guantánamo will hear opening arguments this morning in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan (right). It is the 1st trial for anyone whom the United States captured in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (Meanwhile, back in Washington, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey called upon Congress to write new rules for detainees who pursue habeas petitions, as the Court last month made clear, in Boumediene v. Bush, that they have a right to do.)
Hamdan, alleged to have been a chauffeur for Osama bin Laden, is charged with the offenses of conspiracy and material support for terrorism. Hamdan entered a plea of not guilty before a military judge yesterday, and a jury of 6 military officers, plus, 1 alternate, quickly was chosen. At least 2/3 of the jury must agree on a verdict. The "trial in a small, windowless courtroom" is expected to last 3 weeks.
On Day 1 the judge issued a split decision on defendant's challenge to the admissibility of statements made during interrogation. Those made at Bagram Air Base and Panshir in Afghanistan cannot be used on account of what the judge called the "'highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made.'" The judge refused, however, to issue a blanket ban on statements made at Guantánamo, notwithstanding defendant's contention that they too were impermissibly obtained.
The chief prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, said that the ruling would not harm its case:
'It does not reduce my confidence in our ability fully to depict Mr. Hamdan's criminality. We're fine.'

And before the ruling, the defense appeared less than confident about the final result:
... Hamdan's military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, said the trial
'is going to be deficient. It's going to proceed, but . . . there are fundamental flaws in this system. I don't know that I can predict an acquittal.'

Observers from Human Rights First are blogging the Hamdan trial here; the American Civil Liberties Union is set to begin blogging later in the week.

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