By Kenneth J. Theisen, 11/17/06
In a report released today entitled, “No-Hearing Hearings,” it is documented that hearings for detainees at Guantanamo Bay to determine whether prisoners should remain in custody have been nothing but kangaroo courts. Despite the fact that the military called no witnesses, withheld evidence from detainees, and usually reached decisions within a day, hundreds of detainees were found to be “enemy combatants” by these hearings.
Attorneys Mark Denbeaux, a Seton Hall University law professor, and Joshua Denbeaux, his son, are the report’s authors. They and twenty-nine law students analyzed transcripts and records of the military hearings of 393 detainees at Guantanamo. After the analysis Mark Denbeaux stated, “These were not hearings. These were shams.”
This report is quite timely as the Bush regime is currently using the recently passed Military Commissions Act to restrict detainee access to civilian courts. The government maintains that these Combatant Status Review Tribunals are the only legal recourse for prisoners. Given the nature of these tribunals, that means no legal recourse exists.
Between July 2004 and January 2005, 558 prisoners held at Guantanamo faced such tribunals. All but 38 were found to be “enemy combatants.” The hearings were held before three U.S. military officers. The prisoners were handcuffed and were accompanied by a U.S. military “personal representative,” not a lawyer. According to the report, in 12 percent of the hearings the “personal representative” said nothing at all and in 36 percent of the cases they made no “substantive comments.” The report claimed that in several cases where substantive comments were made the representative seemed to advocate the government’s case.
Other findings in the report that prove these hearings were kangaroo courts include:
The government did not produce government witnesses at any of the hearings.
All detainee requests to inspect classified evidence against them were denied.
Detainee requests to produce documentary evidence were denied in 60 percent of the cases. The only such evidence they were allowed to present was from family and friends.
Requests to call defense witnesses who were not held at Guantanamo were denied and in 74 percent of the cases even these requests for defense witnesses were denied. Only 4 percent of the detainees were allowed to call all the detainee witnesses they requested.
81 percent of the time, the tribunal made decisions the same day as the hearing.
In 3 cases, the hearing officers found that the detainee was not an enemy combatant, but then the military convened new tribunals that found them to be enemy combatants. In one triple jeopardy case, two tribunals found the detainee not to be an enemy combatant but the military held a third hearing where he was finally found to be one. (“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” seems to be the operating principle.)
In October 2006, Bush signed “The Military Commissions Act.” It allows the president to designate people as enemy combatants. Non-U.S. citizens so designated are not allowed to challenge their detention in civilian courts with petitions of habeas corpus. But they will be allowed to have military tribunals not too dissimilar from the above. Due process? Not by any stretch of the imagination. This is what your government is doing in your name. Can any of us allow the crimes of this regime to continue? What will you do to stop them?