Human Rights First Urges Congress To Use Time-Tested Rules For War Crimes Trials
As Congress begins hearings this week on the impact of the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down military commissions, Human Rights First urges Congress to follow the court-martial system established over fifty years ago under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to prosecute these cases.
“Congress has already created a comprehensive military justice system for trying people accused of war crimes,” said Avidan Cover, Senior Associate in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program. “The court-martial system provides clear rules and procedures that are flexible enough to try cases that raise national security issues.”
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court declared unlawful the military commissions established by President Bush. The Court held that the Administration failed to comply with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, specifically Common Article 3. Common Article 3 requires, among other things, that courts that try individuals during wartime must provide “all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.” The modern U.S. court-martial system provides individuals with those fundamental rights and is respected around the world.
“Both Congress and the President already have the tools they need to prosecute war crimes by detainees,” said Cover, “If there are significant logistical reasons to deviate from any court-martial rule on evidence or procedure, then the burden is on the President to explain why deviation is necessary. Congress should carefully consider any such justification through the hearing process.”