For Immediate Release: January 20, 2011
Washington, DC – In response to news reports that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will soon lift the current ban on bringing new charges in the nation’s flawed military commissions system, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino issued the following statement:
“Just this month, President Obama observed that ‘the prosecution of terrorists in federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation.’ But with the exception of one Guantanamo detainee who was convicted in federal court last month, President Obama has failed to use that tool. If the administration restarts military commissions now, without drawing a clear line between the legacy of the Guantanamo mess created by the Bush administration and future cases, President Obama will be left with a detention and trial policy that looks an awful lot like that of his predecessor: military commissions and prolonged detention with no end in sight.
“Since their creation under President Bush, the rules governing military commissions have been reworked on three separate occasions. The proceedings have produced only 5 convictions since 9/11, including three plea bargains, and two of the men convicted are already free. By contrast, federal courts have produced over 400 terrorism convictions. In the case of Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri, whose case may be the first to come before the Obama commissions, his co-conspirators in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole have already been convicted in federal courts. But the al-Nashiri case could face significant problems in the military commissions system.
“Should future convictions be obtained in the military commissions, they are likely–and rightly–to be challenged on any number of grounds, including the use of hearsay and potentially of evidence obtained through torture.
“President Obama should not allow second-class justice to play out at Guantanamo Bay. It will only strengthen international conjecture that the reason future cases are going to a military commission rather than the federal courts is simply to avoid political confrontation and to hide the use of evidence obtained in violation of international law. President Obama should stand behind his support of federal trials for accused terrorists. It’s the only venue that delivers justice worthy of this country.”
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