New Report: Tortured Justice

NEW YORK—The introduction of coerced evidence, obtained through the use of official cruelty, into military commission trials at Guantanamo Bay is rapidly contaminating the justice system and jeopardizing the prospects for the successful prosecution of terrorists, a new report charges.

The report–Tortured Justice: Using Coerced Evidence to Prosecute Terrorist Suspects—released today by Human Rights First, finds the Bush administration has undercut its own intended use of the military commission system to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice, by allowing the admission of evidence tainted by torture. The administration sanctioned the use of abusive interrogation methods, believing that the need to gather information by any means to prevent future terrorist attacks took precedence over the complications it would cause down the line in prosecuting crimes that had already taken place.

“Notwithstanding that torture and coercion consistently produce unreliable information, the administration’s miscalculation has produced a secondary system of defective justice,” said Deborah Colson, author of the report and a senior associate in Human Rights First’s Law and Security program. “By ignoring fundamental principles that underpin our justice system, the administration is compromising the successful prosecution of terrorist suspects.”

The report examines the challenges of relying on coerced evidence from the perspectives of legal and military experts, including a source inside the Office of Military Commissions who was denied information about the detainees he was assigned to prosecute. Scientific research has consistently shown that suspects who are tortured or otherwise coerced often provide false or misleading information in order to stop the abuse or because their mental or physical functions have been impaired.

In addition to compromising the strength of the cases against suspected terrorists, the report demonstrates the impact of the United States’ reliance on coerced testimony in tainting the legitimacy of the proceedings both at home and in the eyes of the international community by shifting the focus from the crimes committed by the accused to the abusive conduct of their interrogators, by fostering the perception that the cases against suspected terrorists are weak and by validating the use of torture and other cruel interrogation techniques.

At the center of the report are the case studies of six Guantanamo detainees who allege abuse at the hands of U.S. government interrogators. Some of these allegations have been documented by military investigations and detainee interrogation logs, and some have even been publicly acknowledged by administration officials. Three of these men are among the 13 who have been charged with criminal offenses by military commission officials, and procedural hearings for one of them, Omar Khadr, is scheduled to commence this Tuesday.

The report also includes a chart identifying 60 other suspects currently detained at Guantanamo who also allege abuse, alongside the names of those who may have implicated them and those they, in turn, may have implicated. The chart offers stark visualization of the cumulative effect of the cross contamination of coerced evidence.

In order to stop the pollution of America’s justice system, the report puts forward several recommendations including:

  • The U.S. government should try terrorist suspects by court-martial or in civilian criminal courts where coerced confessions are inadmissible, the introduction of hearsay evidence is restricted to protect reliability and the rules governing the disclosure and introduction of classified evidence are clear.
  • The U.S. government should prohibit the admission of statements extracted through torture or coercion during detention hearings and criminal trials for terrorist suspects.
  • Congress should require the U.S. government to provide detainees with counsel at detention hearings, and restore habeas corpus rights to detainees designated as enemy combatants
  • Congress should impose additional discovery requirements on government prosecutors in terrorism cases, subject to the same procedures employed in U.S. courts for evaluating potentially classified evidence.

The report is available here:


Published on March 10, 2008


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