The Department of Defense announced yesterday that it has officially charged five Guantanamo detainees for participating in the September 11th terrorist attacks. They also dropped charges that were pending for a sixth alleged conspirator, Mohammed al Qahtani. So soon? Most of these prisoners have been held by the government for over five years! There’s nothing like a speedy trial, wouldn't you say?
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group that participated in Mohammed al Qahtani’s defense, the government dropped its case against Mr. Qahtani because every statement he had made during interrogations had been a result of torture – or at least the threat of torture. Luckily for the government, it was able to gather some evidence against the other five suspects without relying entirely on the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, allowing the sham tribunals to move forward in those cases.
A press release from the ACLU, which along with National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers provides legal counsel to some of the Guantanamo detainees, reports that several lawyers have faced serious government roadblocks to their representation of detainees. According to the release, two ACLU lawyers who had received security clearance four and a half years ago to defend two other detainees are still waiting to receive clearance to represent Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the five men officially charged this week. They applied for this latest round of clearance in February.
As Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron has said, “The ability of lawyers to confer with their clients and advocate for justice for those clients is a deeply imbedded principle of American democracy. Arbitrary restrictions concerning the number of times and the ways that lawyers may confer with their clients in Guantanamo…would threaten competent representation without at all advancing national security. The principles of freedom, due process and justice are too critical to our national character to be abandoned in any manner.”
Any day now, the Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in Boumedine v. Bush. We hope that the Court will put an end to the kangaroo courts set up by the Bush administration to determine who can be held indefinitely as enemy combatants. If not, prisoners like Mr. Qahtani, who will not be prosecuted because of a lack of evidence, can still be held at Guantanamo for as long as the United States government sees fit.
The principle of habeas corpus and access of the accused to our courts are central to our Constitution and democracy. Any suspension of these rights is an affront, not only to the law, but to our values as a nation. To learn more about our fight to restore habeas corpus, visit our website: http://www.defendhabeas.org/.