Rights Group Urges Stay of KSM Military Commission Proceedings
Human Rights First urges military judge Stephen Henley to stay the military commission proceedings in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s case today in light of his and his co-defendant’s request to plead guilty.
“Allowing these pleas to go forward in proceedings that are widely viewed around the world to be inherently unjust would be a hollow and short-sighted victory for the government,” says Elisa Massimino, Executive Director of Human Rights First. “Ultimately it would undermine the ability of the United States to obtain legitimate justice for the 9/11 attacks in our ordinary criminal courts.”
The accused announced their intention to plead guilty at a pretrial hearing in Guantanamo early this morning. Judge Henley should make a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding their request. Should he refuse to accept the pleas, it is unlikely the case will be tried before President-elect Obama takes office in January 2009. Obama has vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
Human Rights First has long condemned the military commissions, which permit the use of coerced evidence and deny other fundamental due process protections. In a blueprint for the incoming administration, Human Rights First has called on Obama to suspend all pending military commission cases and to try suspects being detained in Guantanamo Bay in federal criminal courts.
America’s courts are up to the task of trying terrorism cases. In fact, the federal courts have presided over cases implicating national security for more than two centuries. In May, Human Rights First released “In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts,” the most thorough examination to date of international terrorism prosecutions brought in the federal courts. The report finds that federal courts have proven to be highly adaptive and flexible in delivering justice in complex terrorism cases, casting doubt on the necessity of the competing mechanisms proposed to supplant them since 9-11.
“Dozens of terrorist suspects have been successfully prosecuted in recent years in our ordinary criminal courts, and many of them are now serving life sentences in federal prison,” said Devon Chaffee, Advocacy Counsel for Human Rights First who is currently on the ground at Guantanamo Bay. “But these guilty pleas before the fundamentally flawed military commissions system would bear none of the marks of finality and fairness they would have borne if made in our criminal justice system,” said Chaffee.
“Accepting guilty pleas in a discredited system that is incapable of delivering justice will only further fuel terrorist propaganda and hamper efforts to nurture democracy and the rule of law around the world,” said Massimino. “Adhering to the rule of law is critical to confronting the threat of terrorism.”