411-0: opposition to Bush’s Guantánamo policy grows

28.8.07

The US Supreme CourtAs the time steadily approaches when the US Supreme Court will consider whether, after over three years of stalling and obfuscation on the part of the administration, the detainees at Guantánamo will be allowed “full access to the US court system” and the right to challenge the basis of their detention in federal courts, the Associated Press reports that 411 senior officials from the United States and Europe –- 25 retired US diplomats, two retired rear admirals, a retired Marine general, and 383 current or former members of the European and British parliaments –- made their support for the detainees’ case clear to the Supreme Court on Friday.

Their opposition to the administration’s policies stems from a profound dissatisfaction with the tribunal system –- the Combatant Review Status Tribunals –- which were hurriedly established by the administration after the Supreme Court first ruled, 38 months ago, that the detainees had the right to challenge their detention, and after they had already spent two and a half years in a hermetically sealed legal limbo.

Far from being an adequate response, the tribunals –- in which three-member military panels reviewed the detainees’ status as enemy combatants, but the detainees themselves had no right to legal counsel and were not allowed to see the classified information on which most of the verdicts were supposedly based –- had been criticized from the moment of their inception, and were recently subjected to fierce condemnation by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a member of the team responsible for compiling the “evidence” used in the tribunals, who criticized the entire process as severely flawed, often relying on “generic” evidence and designed solely to rubber-stamp the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants” (as I reported here, here and here). Abraham’s statement, filed in a case in June, is widely credited with encouraging the Supreme Court –- in a reversal that was so rare that it last occurred 60 years ago –- to agree to take the detainees’ case in June, reversing a decision made just two months earlier.

In their submission to the Supreme Court, the 383 European politicians –- “of divergent political views,” as the AP put it –- declared that it was “important that even when faced with the threat of international terrorism, all states, including the United States, comply with the standards set by international humanitarian law and human rights law by granting full court access,” and added, pointedly, “The treatment of petitioners currently falls short of these standards.”

For their part, the 25 retired US diplomats pointed out that lower court rulings “supporting the Bush administration’s opposition to full court access” were “seized upon by repressive governments as a license to incarcerate their own citizens and others with impunity,” but the most trenchant criticism came from Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, the senior legal adviser for the Marine Corps from 1985-88, Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy’s judge advocate general from 1997-2000, and Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, the Navy’s judge advocate general from 2000-02, who declared that the CSRTs had been “tainted by the permissible use of evidence obtained by torture,” and stated, “If the United States holds prisoners indefinitely –- potentially lifetime imprisonment –- based on sham CSRT proceedings and without providing meaningful judicial review of their imprisonment, enemies in current or future conflicts may use that as an excuse to mete out similar treatment to captured American military forces.”

The complaints of these 411 men and women are not without precedent. In the last few years, a roll-call of retired US military commanders and diplomats (many of them staunch Republicans) and European parliamentarians have joined a chorus of disapproval from the leaders of other countries, from UN representatives, from religious leaders, and from judges, lawyers and human rights activists, pointing out essentially the same things: that the system is monstrously unjust, that it blackens the good name of the United States worldwide, that it empowers dictators by example, and that it endangers the lives of US soldiers and civilians abroad. This time, however, the timing may be significant, as the administration is due to begin court filings in its own defense in just six weeks’ time.

[Note: In a Yemen Observer article that has not been picked up elsewhere, David Remes, attorney for 15 Yemeni detainees in Guantánamo, “made it clear that the Bush administration wants to close down the detention [center] before the Supreme Court listens to the lawyers’ arguments about the center’s constitutionality late this year.” Remes specifically told the Observer that he believes that “The government might even close Guantánamo before the Supreme Court hears argument from the lawyers in early December, and it will probably issue its decision between April and the end of June. That is the last thing the government wants, and I predict that the government will close the detention [center] to avoid having to do so.” Discuss. Oh, and the article’s also good on the plight of Guantánamo’s largest and often overlooked constituency, the 100 or so Yemeni detainees who are still held there].

For more on the legal challenges to Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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