By Zeke Johnson, Amnesty International USA's Counter Terror With Justice Campaign
Is this America or the Twilight Zone? According to Amnesty International's new report, President Obama's new rules for military commissions at Guantanamo allow for a defendant who is found NOT guilty to be locked up. Potentially forever.
It could happen to Omar Khadr. He will be the first person tried under President Obama's military commissions, and his pre-trial hearings started last week. Khadr is a Canadian national who has been held in US custody for nearly 8 years, since he was 15 years old. He has said he was repeatedly tortured in U.S. custody. His military commission is set up such that it will not meet international standards for fairness. And, even if he is found not guilty after his unfair trial, he can still be held indefinitely.
The new military commissions rule book notes that indefinite detention after acquittal by military commission "may be authorized by statute, such as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), as informed by the laws of war." (Rule 1101, page II-139.)
President Obama has already used the AUMF to justify indefinite detention and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has proposed writing that justification into standard American law. President Obama and Senator Graham worked with Congress last year to set up the current unfair military commissions.
They are using--as did President Bush--the concept of a global war against al Qaeda as justification for violating three pillars of the American justice system:
- If you are accused of a crime, you have the right to either be charged and tried, or be released.
- If you are tried, you have the right to a fair trial.
- If you are found not guilty, you have the right to go free.
Now that two presidents and hundreds of members of Congress from two different parties have responded to the heinous attacks on 9/11 by throwing away due process and fair trials, the conclusion is inescapable: al Qaeda has destroyed the U.S. justice system.
It's pretty obvious that self-imposed self destruction by states is one of the hallmark goals of terrorism; how could elected officials ignore--to this day--the American military and intelligence experts who warn them over and over again not to go down this road?
As a New Yorker who saw the second tower fall with my own eyes, I want justice for 9/11 and an end to terrorism. But our politicians have tried countering terror with injustice for over 9 years--and that makes me feel a lot LESS safe.
There's been a more effective way to counter terror all along, one that doesn't violate human rights: with justice. To take just one example: U.S. federal courts have a better track record than military commissions of prosecuting terrorism cases since 2001 by 390 to 3.
Join Amnesty International and urge President Obama and Congress to counter terror with justice: abandon military commissions and use U.S. federal courts to prosecute terrorism cases.
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