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July 19, 2006

Courts-Martial a Proven System for War Crimes Trials

Human Rights First Washington Director Elisa Massimino today urged the Senate Armed Services Committee to use the existing military justice system to try war crimes suspects.

In her testimony, Massimino critiqued the failed military commission system and recommended its use be discontinued. Human Rights First has sent monitors to Guantanamo to report on the military commissions since they began in 2004. 

Massimino testified that the time-tested rules and procedures of courts-martial are clear to judges, prosecutors and defense counsel and fully meet the fundamental rights requirements outlined in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. She also pointed out that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan case made clear that the burden is now on those who propose to deviate from the Uniform Code of Military Justice to demonstrate why it is impractical to adhere to it.

“We should not shrink from applying the law to those who violate it. By prosecuting those who have committed war crimes within a legal system that provides fundamental protections, we bolster the laws governing armed conflict and human rights,” Massimino testified. “Over 200 years of history proves the courts-martial system is up to the task.” 

First authorized by Congress in 1776, and more recently codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice during the Korean War, the courts-martial system commands international respect.

“We have a long haul ahead of us in combating the threat of terrorism,” concluded Massimino. “Adhering to a system that upholds the rule of law, serves as a shining example to the rest of the world, and reflects our values, will only add to our strength, not detract from it.”

The full text of Massimino’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee is available here.