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Context of 'August 18, 2004: Civil Rights Activist Decries Guantanamo Hearings'

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David Hicks.David Hicks. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Rasul v. Bush, involving Guantanamo detainees Shafiq Rasul, Mamdouh Habib, David Hicks, and Asif Iqbal, the Supreme Court holds in a 6-3 ruling that the US exercises “complete jurisdiction and control” over Guantanamo Bay, and thus, that the Guantanamo prisoners have the right to challenge their detentions before a judge. Under the habeas corpus statute, Justice John Paul Stevens writes for the majority that “aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts’ authority.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] It is unclear whether the court’s ruling is intended to extend to detainees held in other parts of the world, but given the court’s reasoning, it appears that decision applies to detainees both in Guantanamo and elsewhere. [New York Times, 6/29/2004]
Conservative Dissent - The three dissenting justices are conservatives William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Scalia says the decision is “an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field.” He acknowledges that the location of Guantanamo has in fact been intended to keep detainees outside of the reach of the judiciary. “Today, the court springs a trap on the executive, subjecting Guantanamo Bay to the oversight of federal courts even though it has never before been thought to be within their jurisdiction, and thus making it a foolish place to have housed alien wartime detainees,” Scalia writes. Stevens writes that it does not matter what status the Guantanamo inmates have regarding the question of whether they should have access to a US court. “What is presently at stake is only whether the federal courts have jurisdiction to determine the legality of the executive’s potentially indefinite detention of individuals who claim to be wholly innocent of wrongdoing.” And this, he writes, they do. The case is subsequently sent back to a lower court to consider the prisoners’ claims. [Guardian, 6/28/2004]
Side-Stepping the Ruling - The media characterizes the decision as a rebuke for the Bush administration, which had argued that the courts have no right to interfere in the commander in chief’s decisions involving wartime policies. However, the decision says nothing about what rights the detainees might have once they get inside a courtroom, and therefore actually places little real restraint on the government. White House officials will decide that the detainees have no rights in the courtroom whatsoever—although the Court has ruled that they can file lawsuits, those lawsuits must be dismissed out of hand because the detainees have no right to actually present a case. The Republican-led Congress will later pass a law stripping courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo lawsuits. [Savage, 2007, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: William Rehnquist, Shafiq Rasul, Mamdouh Habib, Antonin Scalia, David Hicks, Asif Iqbal, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling a week before (see June 28, 2004), Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz signs an Order Establishing a Combatant Status Review Tribunal thereby establishing “Combatant Status Review Tribunals” to review each Guantanamo detainee and decide whether the prisoner is an unlawful enemy combatant. [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2004 pdf file] The tribunals will use the following definition of an unlawful combatant: “Any individual who was part of supporting Taliban or al-Qaeda forces or was associated with forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed belligerent acts or directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.” [New York Times, 8/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The mobile trailer where Combatant Status Review Tribunals are held.The mobile trailer where Combatant Status Review Tribunals are held. [Source: US Navy]At Guantanamo, the first of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (see July 7, 2004) convenes to determine whether the designations of 585 detainees at Guantanamo as unlawful enemy combatants are just. The hearings were ordered by the Supreme Court which ruled in June that detainees have the right to challenge their detention (see June 28, 2004). The hearings, open to only a small number of reporters, are conducted by three military officers. Each hearing will generally take about two hours. The defendants are not required to cooperate or even be present during the hearings. [New York Times, 8/24/2004] The burden of proof during the tribunal hearings lies with the detainees, although they are hardly in a position to make their case. They are not permitted attorneys to represent their case. Instead, each detainee is assigned a “personal representative,” who is a military officer, not a lawyer or advocate. The detainees can be denied information about how, where, and from whom incriminating information about them originates. [New York Times, 8/24/2004] Although the detainees may call witnesses or present evidence, the Los Angeles Times reports that they are rarely permitted to put forward any evidence or offer the testimony of witnesses in their defense. According to the newspaper, their requests are frequently turned down as “irrelevant.” Other evidence is often ruled inadmissible. [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2004] Government prosecutors, however, are permitted to use a wider range of types of evidence than that which is permissible in a US criminal court. According to the order establishing the tribunals: “The Tribunal is not bound by the rules of evidence such as would apply in a court of law. Instead the Tribunal shall be free to consider any information it deems relevant and helpful to a resolution of the issue before it. At the discretion of the Tribunal, for example, it may consider hearsay evidence, taking into account the reliability of such evidence in the circumstances.” [US Department of Defense, 7/7/2004 pdf file]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

An artist’s drawing of Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi appearing before a military commission on August 27, 2004.An artist’s drawing of Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi appearing before a military commission on August 27, 2004. [Source: Art Lien/ Getty Images]The number of Guantanamo detainees charged with a crime and singled out for trial by military commission reaches 15. However, for the time being, hearings are scheduled for only four of them—David Hicks, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan. All are charged with conspiracy, except for Australian David Hicks, who is also charged with attempted murder and aiding the enemy. [New York Times, 8/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, David Hicks, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Tim Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the status review tribunals (see July 30, 2004, August 2004, and August 24, 2004) being held at Guantanamo amount to “second-class tribunals, the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Tim Edgar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

A hearing is held for Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who is being accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, and destruction of property. The five-member military commission—the first to conduct a trial since World War II—is presided over by Army Col. Peter Brownback, who, according to the Pentagon, has 22 years of experience as a judge advocate and almost 10 as a military judge. [BBC, 6/29/2004; Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004] Hamdan’s military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, begins his argument with an attack on Brownback’s qualification to practice law. He calls attention to the fact that Bownback, a retired military judge, is not a current member of the bar in his home state of Virginia. He also alleges that the judge’s office had inappropriate out-of-court discussions with the Office of Military Commissions, and that Brownback had said in a meeting with defense lawyers that a speedy trial was “not an issue here.” Though Brownback denies making the comment, Swift produces a recording of the conversation. But Bownback isn’t the only one put on trial by Swift. He also targets three members of the commission and an alternate member. Swift argues that three have “extensive backgrounds” in dealing with operations in Afghanistan, the treatment of detainees, and military intelligence, and therefore are not in a position to pass an unbiased judgment on the defendant. The alternate member, Lt. Col. Curt S. Cooper, Swift demonstrates, knows little about international law. When asked, “Do you know what the Geneva Convention is, sir?” Cooper replies: “Not specifically. No, Sir. And that’s being honest.” But, he adds, he knows that the Convention consists of three articles. But as Swift points out, that is wrong. “Actually, there are six, Sir,” Swift says, correcting him. Air Force Col. Christopher C. Bogden is the only commission member not challenged by Swift. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004; New York Times, 8/25/2004] In addition to his attacks on the commission members, Swift challenges the merits of the charges against his client. For example he argues that Hamden was denied a speedy trial and that the laws he has been accused of violating were written after the alleged offense.

Entity Tags: Christopher C. Bogden, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Curt S. Cooper, Charles Swift, Peter Brownback

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A Los Angeles Times editorial says the recent hearings before a military commission in Guantanamo (see July 30, 2004) (see August 2004) (see August 24, 2004) are “slapdash preliminary hearings,” which “violated basic tenets of fairness.” They resembled “something between a Mel Brooks farce and the kangaroo courts of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin,” the paper says. [Los Angeles Times, 9/2/2004]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Following criticism over their impartiality (see August 24, 2004), retired Army Maj. Gen. John D. Altenburg Jr. removes three members from the six-member military commission that is trying enemy combatants at the Guantanamo base in Cuba. [Independent, 10/23/2004] Altenburg heads the Appointing Authority for the Office of Military Commissions, which selects members of the military commissions. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2004] Army Col. Peter Brownback retains his job. Brownback’s eligibility to preside over the Guantanamo hearings had earlier been challenged by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the attorney for detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Critics suggest his close personal relationship with Altenburg is a factor. Brownback was a close colleague of Altenburg at Fort Bragg. He attended the wedding of Altenburg’s son, and his wife worked in Altenburg’s office. Swift criticizes the decision not to remove Brownback and says the standards “make no sense.” [Independent, 10/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Charles Swift, John D. Altenburg Jr., Peter Brownback, Salim Ahmed Hamdan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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