Rights of detainees

  • November 13, 2009
    Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced this morning that the Department of Justice will prosecute some suspected terrorists, held at the Guantánamo Bay military prison, in federal court.

    Holder said at a press briefing that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other men, "accused of conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks" will be prosecuted in federal court. Holder said that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and four other military detainees charged with the 2000 "terrorist attack on the USS Cole," will be prosecuted before a military commission.

    "I am confident in the ability of our courts to provide these defendants a fair trial, just as they have for over 200 years," Holder said. "The alleged 9/11 conspirators will stand trial in our justice system before an impartial jury under long-established rules and procedures."

    Holder continued, "I want to assure the American people that we will prosecute these cases vigorously, and we will pursue the maximum punishment available. These were extraordinary crimes and so we will seek maximum penalties. Federal rules allow us to seek the death penalty for capital offenses, and while we will review the evidence and circumstances following established protocols, I fully expect to direct prosecutors to seek the death penalty against each of the alleged 9/11 conspirators."

    Holder's announcement drew mostly favorable comment from civil liberties groups that have opposed the use of military commissions.

    Human Rights First hailed the "decision to move the trials of the 5 Guantanamo detainees accused in the 9/11 conspiracy from the discredited Guantanamo military commissions and into federal courts to face justice."

    The American Civil Liberties Union called the action a "major victory for due process and the rule of law," but also criticized the administration for continuing "to use the illegitimate military commissions system to prosecute some Guantánamo detainees, including the defendant accused in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole."

  • November 10, 2009

    The executive summary of a new report on how to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay opens, "The process for closing Guantanamo has not gone as smoothly as the Obama administration had hoped." Indeed.

    But hope is not lost for advocates of closing the infamous facility. The report, by Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress, charts the path from today to a day when there will be no prisoners remaining at Guantanamo.

    CAP summarizes Gude's recommendations as follows:

    * Push back the closure deadline to July 2010. * Prosecute 9/11 conspirators in federal court and limit military commissions to battlefield crimes. * Limit military detention only to enemy fighters captured in combat zones and use criminal law to prosecute detainees captured far from any battlefield. * Incarcerate detainees convicted in U.S. criminal courts in maximum-security U.S. prisons and transfer those who will remain in military custody to Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
    You can read more and download the full report here.
  • November 9, 2009

    An attorney for Ali Saleh al-Marri (pictured) provided newly declassifid videos of al-Marri's six-year detention at a Charleston, S.C. military brig to The Post and Courier of Charleston, which are now available here.

    "These videos show ... al-Marri[ ] struggling with his six years of solitary confinement, hiding under a metal bed without a mattress and circling his tiny windowless cell for hours," reports The Post and Courier. "Other videos later in al-Marri's incarceration show him bantering easily with brig staff as they place blackout goggles, earmuffs and chains on him before taking him out of his cell."

    Adam Serwer highlighted this "kicker" from The Post and Courier's story:

    A day after he took office, President Barack Obama reversed the Bush administration's enemy combatant stance and ordered al-Marri transferred from military custody to the courts. Before al-Marri agreed to plead guilty, al-Marri sat with investigators for hours, Savage said. In this less-threatening setting, al-Marri verified some of the government's accusations against him and steered the government away from errors in its intelligence.

    "It was a lesson in building trust and having open communications is beneficial to the United States and al-Marri," he said. "In the interrogations, they got nothing."

  • November 5, 2009

    A.) The government will not appeal a federal court order to release Guantanamo detainee Fouad Rabia.

    B.) A distinguished, bipartisan group is urging trials in federal court for detainees.

    C.) The town of Amherst, Mass. passed a resolution welcoming "cleared" Guantanamo detainees.

    D.) For a total of $1.26 million, the government settled a case with five men alleging abuse at a New York detention facility in the wake of 9/11.

    (H/T to Daphne Eviatar at The Washington Independent for unearthing most of these stories.)

  • November 3, 2009
    Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are opposing a bill that would block the Justice Department from prosecuting detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in U.S. courts, reports The Associated Press. The news service says the administration officials stated in an Oct. 30 letter that they want the option of prosecuting detainees in military or civilian courts. Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman are pushing the legislative measure that would bar the Justice Department from spending funds on prosecuting detainees in U.S. Courts.

    ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper also reports on his Political Punch blog that the administration will announce within the next couple of weeks "the names of detainees in Guantanamo Bay whom federal prosecutors plan on trying in U.S. civilian courts and which ones they will send to a military commission." In a recent guest post for ACSblog, Eric Montalvo, senior litigation counsel at Tully Rinckey PLLC in Washington, D.C. and a former Marine Corps Judge Advocate (JAG), examines the use of military commissions, saying that they "do not present defendants with a meaningful opportunity to challenge the bases of the detention."