According to media reports the Pentagon has finalized new rules for deciding the fates of detainees at Guantanamo and other places and is moving ahead with reviewing procedures, and conducting rehearsals so hearings can be done "correctly".
The hearings will evaluate whether the detainees can be classified as "enemy combatants" a designation that allows them to be held indefinitely and prevents them from challenging their detention in the U.S. court system.
Combatant Status Review Tribunals were held for 558 detainees between July 2004 and January 2005. All but 38 were pronounced "enemy combatants".
These rules and procedures and rehearsals are formal and ceremonial window dressing for what amounts to, in my opinion, a kangaroo court, a drum head courts martial, and one more level of violation Bush/Cheney/Gonzales/Rice have brought on our Constitution and our tradition of fair play and human rights.
Defense attorneys have condemned the hearings as shams because classified evidence is withheld from the detainees, and they are not afforded defense lawyers.
The problem with evidence that is kept classified are the questions is it substantive? Is it garbage? Or does it even exist in the first place?
Colonel Dwight Sullivan Chief Defense Council (USMC Res.) has been quoted as saying, "the rules appear carefully crafted to ensure that an accused can be convicted--and possibly executed--based on nothing but coerced evidence. "
"The rules would allow an accused to be executed based on nothing but hearsay." (statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee 8-2-06)
Martin Pinales president , National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has said, "hearsay, double hearsay, and coerced confessions are all admissible, including statements extracted from witnesses by torture."
Col. Sullivan goes on to say, "the prosecution can base its entire case on hearsay without calling witnesses, but if the defendant offers his own hearsay statement without taking the stand, the judge must tell the members, essentially, that the evidence isn't believable."
It gets worse, and even less honorable in that the rules do not protect against unreasonable searches and seizures--even searches that could intrude into a person's body. Under the manual of rules a defendant can have his body cavities forcibly searched without his consent, and any evidence derived thereof may be admitted against him. A defendant could be subjected to surgery in an effort to obtain something the prosecution wants to see. A defendant has no right to object to such a search under these rules and the authorities don't even need to obtain a search warrant from a judge.
Jumana Musa, Advocacy Director for Domestic Human Rights and International Justice, Amnesty International USA points out:
"Civilians picked up far from any battlefield still may be tried in a military system of justice, and defendants can be convicted on evidence obtained through coercion or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that would be inadmissible in any other U.S. judicial forum. The commissions are not bound by any precedent or case law, making mounting an effective defense extremely difficult."
Nan Aron, president, Alliance for Justice points out, "these rules permit death penalty verdicts against detainees who have confessed under torture and coercive interrogation."
The U.S. Army Field Manual FM 34-52 used to say, "Experience indicates that the use of prohibited techniques is not necessary to gain the cooperation of interrogation sources. Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear." (Donald Rumsfeld had that paragraph and others removed and replaced with verbiage that remains classified.)
Elisa Massimino, Washington director, Human Rights First sums it up best: "no civilized nation permits convictions to rest on coerced evidence, and reliance on such evidence has never been acceptable in military or civilian courts in this country. There's a good reason why such tainted evidence is not allowed. It is inherently unreliable, and permitting its use debases the military justice system and dangerously undermines the prohibition on torture and abusive treatment. The fact the military commission rules allow such evidence to be used calls the legitimacy of the entire system into question."
I am in full agreement with the interpretations of Ms. Massimino, Nan Aron, Jumana Musa, Martin Pinales, and Colonel Sullivan.
Coercion, torture, hearsay, double hearsay, no witnesses required, cruel, inhuman, degrading, debasement, the deliberate use of interrogation techniques that experience indicates are the least efficient, and least reliable to the exclusion of everything else.
And lets not forget the 38 detainees who were determined not to be terrorists. My newspaper reading over the past few years tells me the Bush administration still wants those people sentenced to life in prison.
Bush/Cheney/Gonzales/Rice are a small intellectually incestuous, culturally isolated group of people who are not representative of either the character or intent of the American people.
They are the wrong people in the wrong jobs at the wrong time.