ACLU to Monitor Guantánamo Military Commission Proceeding Thursday
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Hearing Will Determine Whether Canadian National Can Be Prosecuted
NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union will be at Guantánamo Bay Thursday to monitor the military commission hearing of Canadian national Omar Ahmed Khadr. The proceeding follows months of disarray and uncertainty about the U.S. government’s system of prosecuting prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay without charges or trial. The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at the military commission proceedings and has observed the tribunals since they began in 2004.
“The Guantánamo proceedings must be changed so that they are consistent with constitutional and international law, and we will continue to do our part by monitoring them and documenting the problems,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “So far, the proceedings have failed miserably to uphold America’s commitment to due process and the rule of law.”
Khadr, now 21, was 15 years old when he was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He is the first detainee to face a military commission since June when charges against him and a Yemeni prisoner, Salim Hamdan, were thrown out by military judges who said the commission lacked proper jurisdictional authority to prosecute them. The military judges ruled that the two defendants had not been designated “unlawful enemy combatants” as required under the Military Commission Act signed into law by President Bush in October 2006.
The U.S. government appealed the dismissal of the cases, and the newly established U.S. Court of Military Commission Review – a panel of three military officers appointed by the Pentagon – reinstated the charges in September by deciding that the military commission judges have the authority to decide whether detainees should be deemed “unlawful” enemy combatants. Despite an appeal filed by Khadr’s lawyers with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the military judge in Khadr’s case, Col. Peter Brownback, will hear the case Thursday.
Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, will attend Khadr’s hearing to ensure his treatment meets constitutional and international standards and to document the ways in which the prosecutorial system carried out by the U.S. military under the auspices of the Military Commissions Act may or may not be consistent with constitutional and international law. His comments and observations will be posted on the ACLU blog which will be available online at: blog.aclu.org/index.php?/categories/1-Torture-Abuse
“There have been inherent and fundamental flaws with this system since its inception. This most recent example of injustice in Khadr’s case is only further proof of that,” Dakwar said. “It is time to bring this sad chapter of American history to an end by ensuring that Guantánamo captives are either given fair trials or released.”
Khadr is charged with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support and espionage. Most of the charges relate to a 2002 incident in Afghanistan in which Khadr is alleged to have thrown a grenade, killing a U.S. soldier. Khadr’s lawyers argue that he should be treated as a minor and that he was abused by U.S. forces at Guantánamo Bay. Col. Brownback will determine whether Khadr is to be classified as an “unlawful” enemy combatant Thursday, and Khadr is also expected to be arraigned.
“The Bush administration’s record when it comes to upholding constitutional and international law in the context of these proceedings leaves us no choice but to remain on guard,” Dakwar said. “Nothing less than the legitimacy of due process and judicial fairness are at stake.”
The ACLU has repeatedly called on Congress and the Bush administration to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. In May, the ACLU endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would effectively end the practice of indefinite detention without charge or due process for detainees who have been held for as long as five years without knowing the reason for their detention. It would also provide a push for the government to finally charge those detainees it believes are guilty of crimes against the United States.
Additional information about the ACLU’s involvement surrounding the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay can be found online at
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