Outside editorial: War-crimes tribunals: Corruption for all to see

Posted: Monday, May 05, 2008

W hat else needs to go wrong before the Bush administration realizes that the war-crimes tribunals for terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, need to be held in traditional U.S. courts?

The latest evidence that the legal proceedings for Guantanamo detainees are a sham came from none other than the Defense Department's former chief prosecutor at the detention facility, Col. Morris D. Davis.

Davis testified in the Gitmo court this week that the special military commission established to handle cases for accused terrorists was corrupted by politics and undue influence by senior Pentagon officials.

Exhibit A: Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann allegedly told an Army prosecutor that cases against certain Guantanamo prisoners should be pursued over others to help sway public opinion, according to an affidavit from Army Lt. Col. William Britt.

The Army prosecutor's affidavit bolsters Davis' testimony.

In 2005, Davis was named the chief prosecutor at Gitmo. He was brought in after several Air Force prosecutors resigned, alleging an unfair legal process and noting prisoner abuse complaints.

Initially, Davis was the military commission's biggest defender. He still believes the detainees should be prosecuted - but in traditional courts, to help ensure fairness.

President Bush issued an order establishing the tribunals shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in order to prosecute war crimes by suspected al-Qaeda members.

From the start, the tribunals have resembled the kangaroo-court Turkish justice system portrayed in the 1978 film Midnight Express.

The Bush administration claimed the enemy combatants weren't entitled to Geneva Conventions protections and could be detained until the so-called war on terror ends - which is indefinitely. Under the administration's ridiculous assertion, even if a detainee is tried and found not guilty he can be sent back to prison until the war ends.

Since the detainees were being held in Cuba, government lawyers said they had no right to U.S. courts. Nor do they have a right to counsel and aren't allowed to see all the evidence against them.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the military tribunals in 2006, after finding the commissions weren't authorized by federal law, nor required by military necessity, and violated the Geneva Conventions.

Undeterred, Bush pressured Congress to pass the Military Commissions Act, which put the tribunals back in business. The law was quickly challenged and the Supreme Court is expected to rule again soon.

The upshot is that the entire process has become corrupted. No matter what the outcome of any proceeding at Gitmo, it is going to be tainted. The tribunals need to be shut down and the defendants' trials moved to a U.S. court.

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