Conviction Flawed in First Guantánamo War Crimes Trial

New York—The long-expected conviction today of Yemeni national Salim Ahmed Hamdan by a U.S. government military commission in Guantánamo proves more about the pervasive flaws in the commission system than it does the guilt of Hamdan, said Human Rights First of the verdict reached in the third day of deliberations by a panel of six senior U.S. military officers.

Hamdan, who admitted he was Osama bin Laden’s driver, was convicted today of material support for terrorism in the first U.S. military commission trial since just after World War II. A sentencing hearing is expected to begin this week.

“This outcome was pre-determined—not by the court, but by the government—well before the trial even began,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, Senior Associate in the Law & Security program at Human Rights First, and who observed parts of the Hamdan trial in Guantánamo. “From the outset the government designed a commission system heavily stacked in favor of conviction, to the point of allowing evidence obtained through extreme physical abuse if not torture. And if the verdict had gone the other way, Hamdan would almost certainly have continued to be detained indefinitely by the government as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant,’ until the administration decides the ‘war on terror’ to be over. That makes the commission proceedings little more than window dressing,” added MuhammedAlly.

“One of the foremost obligations of the Bush administration since September 11 has been to provide a legal process that could bring those implicated in the horrific acts of that day to justice,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “Our regular courts could do that, but the administration’s military commissions have no legitimacy or credibility.”

Human Rights First has attended nearly every military commission hearing, including the Hamdan pre-trial hearings and trial, since they began in 2004. From the inception of the commissions, Human Rights First has raised concerns over the prosecution of detainees.

“The system that produced this conviction allows the admission of evidence obtained through abuse and even torture, ignores fundamental tenets of due process, and has shown itself vulnerable at every turn to unlawful command influence, manipulation and political pressure. Inventing an entirely new trial system with such profound flaws was not only inconsistent with American traditions and standards of justice, but unnecessary as well,” said Massimino. “Our existing criminal courts – civilian and military – are well equipped to handle these cases.”


Published on August 6, 2008


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