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Human Rights First Headshot

A Day in the Life of Guantanamo Military Commissions

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By Gabor Rona
International Legal Director

In true "Camp Justice" fashion, scores of people - lawyers, press, victim families, court personnel, observers, military security and escorts descended upon Guantanamo at taxpayer expense for the better part of a week in order to attend a one hour hearing yesterday in which the issue was: "Should anything happen at this hearing?" And in equally true "Camp Justice" fashion, came the ruling: "No."

Namely, that 18 months after military commission charges were filed against the alleged mastermind and co-conspirators in the 9/11 plot, and during which time no trials have been held, yet another 60-day delay was requested by the government and granted by military judge Stephen R. Henley.

But everyone was there. Everyone except the defendants, that is. They had already sent a written communication to the judge stating that they did not object to the prosecutor's request for the further delay. They are boycotting these ad hoc proceedings and our government continues playing right into the hands of these alleged terrorists by subjecting them to unfair proceedings and providing them with a platform to claim injustice through their conspicuous absence. So incensed was prosecutor Swann that he passionately defended the right of the accused to be in court and requested the judge to send the "extraction teams" into their cells to drag them into the court room. The judge declined. If the logic of forcing the accused to come to court in order to have them state whether or not they wish to be there escapes you, welcome to the absurd world of Guantanamo Military Commissions! My guess is that the prosecutor's plea had more to do with a desire to quash the defendants' protests than with concern for their rights. Or perhaps it's that at the pre-hearing news conference, prosecutor Swann all but promised the assembled, including victim family members, that they would get a look at the accused co-conspirators.

But lest the side show distract us from the main event, here's what the hearing was supposed to be about. In addition to the requested delay, during which the government is supposedly determining whether to continue to prosecute these defendants in the discredited military commissions or to move their cases to federal criminal courts that have successfully prosecuted over 100 international terrorism cases in the last decade, there were requests by some of the accused to dismiss their lawyers, compel Arabic translation of military commission sessions, release the records of prior military commission sessions, and compel access to research supplies and materials.

One of the supplies requested by the accused, according to the prosecutor, was a typewriter. He briefly mocked the request, saying he wouldn't even know where to find one in this computer age. Defense counsel then calmly informed the court that the accused's request for a printer was mistranslated as "typewriter." Such is life in the military commissions.

Meanwhile, back in Washington where Justice Department officials can watch the proceedings on a live feed and must have been popping Tylenol like it was going out of style, there is also a broadside challenge to the military commissions taking place in federal court. The court has ordered the parties to report back to it on what happened down here yesterday within 72 hours.

With all this fur flying chaos afoot, is it too much to expect that those in power will come to their senses? That they will remember we have federal criminal courts with jurisdiction over war crimes, terrorism and all manner of bad behavior; that we have secure prisons from which no one escapes; and that we have a system of civilian justice that is the global gold-standard and that if used, would deprive these would-be warriors their desired martyred status as victims of a judicial lynching.

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