Morning Report 4/8/05
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Bush

These Gitmo 'hearings' are tough on the ol' Constitution

Courting disaster: A Gitmo detainee hears charges read against him (above) before stepping into an ersatz courtroom (below) for an ersatz trial or hearing or whatever they call it (Defense Dept. photos)

WHILE HE WAS down on his knees (like a White House intern) for the dead pope, George W. Bush should have begged forgiveness for screwing with our still breathing Constitution.

Or maybe he should face the kind of "justice" his minions are meting out at Guantánamo Bay. Adam Brookes of the BBC gives a rare glimpse this morning of the kangaroo-kourt system down there in our Cuban outpost. He attended an Administrative Review Board hearing on whether a prisoner should be released. Here's an excerpt of his report:

    The BBC observed an ARB—the first time journalists had been allowed to do so. We saw only the unclassified part of the proceedings.

    Our military escorts took us into Camp Delta—where the detainees are held—to a prefabricated building.

    Before the proceedings began, they briefed us on what we would see. One officer likened the proceedings to a parole hearing—even though the detainees have not been found guilty of any crime.

    He stressed that this was not a legal hearing, and standards of proof and evidence normal for a civilian court would not apply.

Not a "legal hearing"? That's for sure. Just yesterday, the Bush regime's Justice Department was in D.C. arguing before a real court in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan that its kangaroo-kourt system was legit. As the Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig writes:

    A government attorney made the arguments in appealing a ruling by a lower court last year that the military commissions created to prosecute suspected terrorists are inherently unfair to the accused and illegal under military and international law.

    Justice Department attorney Peter D. Keisler said yesterday that U.S. District Judge James Robertson's conclusions were wrong and he should not have ruled on the subject because the courts should give the president broad latitude to wage war against terrorism.

Robertson's ruling last year in the Hamdan case halted the Gitmo hearings. As Leonnig says:

    [Hamdan's] military attorney, Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, sued the government last year, saying the military commission was a "kangaroo court" that defied long-established military law and denied his client rights guaranteed under international treaties.

I wasn't kidding last month when I said Gitmo justice was Cardassian. Leonnig writes this morning:

    Swift and fellow lawyer Neal K. Katyal said commission rules change constantly and are controlled by the military prosecutor who brings the charges.

    "The law demands fairness, independence and competence, and none of those things can be said of the commissions," Katyal told the judges. Swift added that Bush has issued an order that concluded Hamdan is guilty, and military officers would jeopardize their careers by ruling otherwise.

    "My client doesn't think he can get a fair trial under those circumstances," Swift said.

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No shit. Besides which, the process is incredibly secretive. The only outsider who's had any success talking with people at Gitmo, it seems, is Subway's Jared.

Anyway, let's go back to the BBC's Brookes for his look at an ARB:

    The detainee was already sat when we entered the room. He wore an orange jumpsuit, signaling that he was a "non-compliant" prisoner.

    His hands and feet were shackled to the floor. At a guess he was in his late 20s, a rangy young man with a thin beard and a shock of curly hair. He looked rigidly at the floor, apparently to avoid any eye contact.

    At the detainee's side was an "Assisting Military Officer." His role was to assist the detainee in presenting his case, but he appeared well short of legal representation.

    Also present was a "Designated Military Officer," whose role was to present the evidence. He did not resemble a prosecutor. There was no adversarial argument.

    After the board had been sworn in, they listened to a litany of allegations against the detainee. . . . The sources of these allegations were never revealed. It was unclear to us if they came from his own testimony, or intelligence, or elsewhere.

    No witnesses were called, and the detainee sat silent throughout the hearing.

Read Brookes's full account of the rest of the "hearing," which did consist of questioning, although not the kind usually seen in U.S. courts. At the end came another bizarre procedure:

    The officers went into a classified session during which they would hear secret evidence.

    And the detainee would never know what secret evidence against him existed.

    We were struck by the cursory nature of the questioning, and the absence of an attempt to reconcile conflicting claims as to what the young, sullen detainee had actually done.

    More than 60 of these boards have now taken place.

Makes you proud to be an American.

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