House Passes Changes To Guantánamo Military Commissions

October 8, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act today, which includes significant changes to the Guantánamo military commissions. The Senate is expected to pass the conference report and send the bill to the president within the next week.

The bill revises the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to remove some of its worst violations of due process, but the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions. It continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children. At the same time, the bill includes some significant improvements to the military commissions, including the requirement of experienced capital defense attorneys in death penalty cases, more resources for defense counsel, significant new limitations on the use of hearsay and coerced testimony and greater access to witnesses and evidence for defendants.

Despite any improvements, the American Civil Liberties Union firmly believes that the military commissions, even as reconstituted, are inherently illegitimate and should be shut down for good.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel:

“While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

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