ACLU Urges Congress to Uphold American Values in Detainee Trials

July 26, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the House Armed Services Committee met today to consider the procedures for criminal trials of detainees held by the federal government, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to ensure that any resulting legislation include the most basic due process protections valued by all Americans.

“The Supreme Court rightly recognized that the rule of law is vital, even during times of conflict,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The military commissions created by President Bush do not provide a fair trial under any recognized set of legal standards, and that includes the Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the Geneva Conventions. As Congress deals with this issue, it must create a system that provides basic due process of law and will withstand judicial scrutiny.”

Congressional review of the detention issue was sparked by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that President Bush overstepped his authority when he created military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo. The military commission rules did not conform with federal law because they violated the basic protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Specifically, the military commissions did not allow the defendant to see the evidence against him, did not prohibit the use of coerced testimony, allowed the use of hearsay evidence that would never be allowed in a typical criminal trial, and did not require prosecutors to provide exculpatory evidence to the defendant. Without these basic protections, there would be little certainly about a defendant’s actual guilt or innocence.

The ACLU argued, and the Supreme Court decided, that this system failed to provide the basic procedural safeguards guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions, which are part of American law. However, some administration officials have urged Congress to “ratify” the illegal military commissions, with the New York Times reporting today that the White House has drafted such language. The ACLU urged the Committee to question the witnesses from the Defense Department on the pervasive problems with the draft White House bill.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago, the Judge Advocates General for the four services urged close adherence to the court-martial system that the Supreme Court found provides sufficient due process protections. There is more agreement on the application of the Geneva Conventions as both the Department of Defense and the attorney general stated the protections of Common Article 3 must be afforded to detainees held both by the Defense Department and the CIA.

“The administration is veering back and forth between complying with and violating the requirements set out by the Supreme Court last month,” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “To its credit, the administration reversed course and is now applying basic Geneva Conventions protections to all detainees, but its latest proposal would gut the Geneva Conventions and violate the due process rights that all Americans cherish. It’s time for Congress to insist the federal government follows the rule of law.”

The ACLU Letter to the House Armed Services Committee is available at:

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