ACLU Testifies Against Fatally Flawed Military Commissions

July 8, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union is set to testify today before a key House subcommittee on the controversial military commissions system. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hear testimony from ACLU attorney Denny LeBoeuf and others on recent attempts to modify the fatally flawed system.

“The military commissions fly in the face of the most basic principles of our democracy and justice system. They are inherently illegitimate and their continuation will only prove to further erode our system of justice,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel.

Language revising the military commissions, including allowing the admission of coerced evidence, has been added to the current Senate draft of the Defense Authorization bill. On Tuesday, during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, a Department of Justice lawyer said that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution may apply to the military commissions and that allowing the use of any coerced evidence may be unconstitutional, which would result in any prosecutions being reversed. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported last week that a recent undisclosed Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion concluded that the use of coerced evidence in at least some military commission proceedings would be unconstitutional.

After immediately suspending the military commissions upon taking office in January, President Obama has recently moved toward reviving the flawed system. While both the president’s proposal and the new legislation passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee would bar evidence obtained through torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the Senate bill would still allow coerced evidence and hearsay to be admitted. That means that forced confessions and hearsay evidence that would be barred from every U.S. courtroom and court-martial would still be admissible. By contrast, the Constitution, the Federal Rules of Evidence used in federal criminal courts and rules for military courts-martial prohibit all evidence obtained by coercion.

In addition to being unconstitutional, the military commissions are unnecessary. Under our criminal justice system, the government already has sufficient tools at its disposal to prosecute terrorism suspects, including a wide array of criminal laws that even prohibit activities that are often only remotely related to terrorism.

“Our criminal justice system has already proven it is more than capable of handling terrorism cases securely while providing fundamental rights,’” said LeBoeuf, Director of the ACLU John Adams Project. “Federal courts have tried and convicted more than 200 international terrorism crimes; the military commissions have successfully tried and convicted three. The military commissions are an irreparable failure and Congress should not revive or continue this broken system.”

“How can we call this justice if the military commissions don’t comply with either the Constitution or the Geneva Conventions? Hearsay and coerced evidence have no place in a courtroom,” said Anders. “If the president signs this bill with the current military commissions language, he will be allowing the very legacy of the injustices of Guantanamo to remain.”

To read the ACLU’s testimony, go to: /safefree/general/40241leg20090708.html

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