This assignment was supposed to fulfill a career-long dream. In the ten years I have been employed by Amnesty International USA in research, the opportunity to travel to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to observe military commission proceedings against the detainees charged with leading involvement in the September 11th terrorist attacks was something I always wanted to experience firsthand.
I flew down to this US Naval station on the southeast edge of Cuba and I arrived Sunday evening just in time to gain my first experience of the ever-changing world of military commission justice when the press briefing rules were amended at the last minute to prevent observers from attending the opening press briefing by the defense and prosecution counsels.
As a human rights researcher, I somewhat knew what to expect. However as an attorney, this morning threw me a relative curveball, even from a military commission process which is now in its third incarnation with multiple legal challenges and stoppages in the past 12 years. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Late last night, President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law with provisions that restrict the transfer of Guantanamo detainees and further impede closure of the prison. Furthermore, nothing was done to correct provisions in last year’s NDAA that further entrench indefinite military detention, unfair trials, and the U.S. government’s “global war” framework, in U.S. law.
The “global war” framework— which holds that the U.S. government is engaged in a global, pervasive, never-ending “war” with al-Qaeda and other vaguely defined groups and individuals—was first articulated by the Bush administration and has been embraced by the Obama administration.
It’s no secret that I’m at Guantánamo this week to observe pre-trial motion hearings in the military commission case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks.
What is secret? According to U.S. authorities, everything the five defendants know, say or write–including about their time in CIA custody. It’s all “presumptively classified” Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI). Everything. From torture to what they ate for breakfast.
According to a defense motion filed against “presumptive classification” (one of several motions to be addressed at Guantánamo this week), “If a prisoner says that he misses his family, this information is ‘born classified’ even though no original classification authority would or could ever classify it.”
No matter how hard the Military Commissions try they can’t escape the elephant in the courtroom. The five defendants in the 9/11 case were tortured by the CIA and the government is tying itself in knots trying to work around this fact.
In his press conference on the eve of the arraignment the Chief Prosecutor, General Mark Martens, tried to address this issue:
“Some have said that any attempt to seek accountability within the Military Commissions system must inevitably be tainted by torture… we acknowledge your skepticism, but we also say that the law prohibits the use of any statement obtained as a result of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and we will implement the law.”
Of course the law also requires the state to investigate allegations of torture – yet in the case of the five defendants being arraigned this hasn’t happened. That might explain some of our skepticism. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Provisions that were snuck into the bill with little notice from mainsteam media could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open, and hinder fair trials. With your help, we can ensure that human rights violating provisions in the draft bill do not become law.
Update: We did it — thanks to your calls, the Senate successfully defeated Senator Ayotte’s amendment to ban fair trials for terror suspects! But the fight isn’t over. Please continue to help fight against other legislation that would keep Guantanamo open.
A new and dangerous amendment has been put on the appropriations omnibus bill on the Senate floor today — and now’s the time to pick up the phone and urge your Senators to vote no. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has introduced an amendment to H.R. 2112 that would bar all federal trials for foreign terrorist suspects and goes further than any previous attempt to undermine the fight against terrorism.
Released just as President Obama seems to have washed his hands of closing Guantanamo, a new batch of leakedgovernment documents provide fresh insight into just how inadequate, iniquitous and ultimately counterproductive, the US foray into indefinite detention has been.
The new document cache consists of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) – essentially case summaries – produced by intelligence analysts at Guantanamo between 2002 and 2009 that were first leaked to Wikileaks and then by someone in the Wikileaks community to the press.
The picture of Guantanamo that emerges from these new documents is of an arbitrary review process, operating from a presumption of guilt not innocence, thrown together on the fly, and overseen by individuals with so little understanding of cultural nuance that they might as well have been drafted in from Mars.
The New York Times points out that the qualification “possibly” appears 387 times about intelligence used in the files, with the qualifiers “unknown” and “deceptive” appearing 188 times and 85 times respectively. Further proof that the intelligence business is anything but a precise science.