ACLU At Guantánamo This Week For Hearings On Detainees' Legal Representation

July 9, 2008 12:00 am

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Group Renews Call To Shut Down Guantánamo Prison And Military Commissions

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union is at Guantánamo this week for hearings to determine whether any of the detainees accused of 9/11-related crimes were coerced by fellow detainees into rejecting direct legal representation at their June 5 arraignment.

“By all indications, the government has purposefully encouraged a situation where the detainees would represent themselves ‘pro se,’ knowing that such an arrangement could prevent the disclosure of documented torture or other abuse at the hands of the CIA, as well as evidence concerning the 9/11 tragedy,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU who is at Guantánamo this week. “The administration’s goal here is to conduct fast, one-sided and, to the extent possible, discovery-free proceedings that allow for the cover-up of illegal detainee treatment. We will continue to fight this legal farce and hold the administration to account.”

Before the arraignment, in an unusual move by the commission inconsistent with prior protocol, the defendants were allowed a pre-hearing “reunion” to speak with one another, allowing for the possibility that some would convince others to reject military and civilian legal counsel. The defendants continued to openly interact in the courtroom throughout the day, even through the legal proceedings themselves. All five detainees attempted to reject direct legal representation at the arraignment.

Such a strategy clearly served to the administration’s advantage since defendants without lawyers might not request the disclosure through discovery of relevant information regarding their treatment. In addition, the prosecution might refuse to turn over documentation to defendants who don’t possess security clearances as their attorneys would. This could obstruct the public disclosure of evidence to which Americans, including 9/11 victims, are entitled regarding the 9/11 attacks.

Following the recent Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution and habeas corpus apply at Guantánamo, news reports state that the Bush administration is engaging in detailed planning for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp despite no formal announcement yet from the White House. Despite the crumbling premise for the existence of the Guantánamo prison camp and the military commission system, the Bush administration is continuing to rush through proceedings of high profile detainees before the November election. The ACLU renews its call for the prison and the military commissions occurring there to be shut down once and for all.

“The Bush administration set up the offshore prison camp at Guantánamo in an overt effort to sidestep the rule of law, but the Supreme Court once again slammed that down,” said Romero. “The Bush administration should shut down the detention camp, and put an end to the military commissions which allow secret, hearsay, and even coerced evidence obtained through torture. The Guantánamo military commissions are fatally flawed and fail to comport with basic American values of due process and fairness.”

As part of its John Adams Project, a partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the ACLU is sponsoring expert civilian counsel to assist the under-resourced military defense counsel of some detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. David Nevin and Scott McKay, two attorneys from the John Adams Project who are part of Mohammed’s defense team, are also at Guantánamo this week.

More information on the John Adams Project is available online at: www.aclu.org

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