Torture and Politics: The Guantanamo Military Trials Underway Are Deeply Flawed

By Quigley, Bill | National Catholic Reporter, June 27, 2008 | Go to article overview

Torture and Politics: The Guantanamo Military Trials Underway Are Deeply Flawed


Quigley, Bill, National Catholic Reporter


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The United States has begun prosecuting accused terrorists at Guantanamo in special military trials. These special trials are far less fair than regular U.S. federal criminal prosecutions. Torture and politics are the reasons why.

What is going on? The United States has prosecuted numerous suspected terrorists in U.S. federal criminal courts since 2001. But for the Guantanamo prisoners, the United States changed the rules. Special military trials against five men accused of assisting in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have started. Dozens more are planned.

What is the difference between these special military trials and the regular U.S. criminal trials where other suspected terrorists have been prosecuted?

In a regular federal terrorism prosecution, a person arrested on suspicion of terrorism has the right to an attorney and to know the charges against them.

The five men whose trials just started at Guantanamo were all arrested in 2002 and 2003. They were held without charges or access to lawyers in secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons until September 2006 when they were transferred to Guantanamo. Some never met an attorney before court started.

In regular federal terrorism trials, a judge confirmed by the U.S. Senate presides and the trial occurs before a jury of civilians.

In Guantanamo, the judge, the prosecutor and one defense lawyer are all members of the military. The jury is made up of members of the military.

In regular federal terrorism trials, coerced confessions and hearsay evidence are not admissible. Both are allowed in the military trials. Unlike in federal criminal trials, classified evidence can be summarized to protect its sources, so defendants may never know who made allegations against them. Unlike in federal criminal trials, lawyers for defendants may not be allowed to see information on abuse or torture of their clients.

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Torture is a core issue in these trials.

The director of the CIA, Michael Hayden, has admitted that one of the first accused to go on trial was subjected to "waterboarding"--a form of torture. Other defendants appear to have been subjected to sleep deprivation, painful stress positions and prolonged nudity in order to force cooperation and statements.

The April 2005 Federal Bureau of Investigation into detainee abuse at Guantanamo found reports of female interrogators performing lap dances on shackled detainees, wiping what appeared to be menstrual blood on detainees and forcing a detainee to wear a woman's bra and thong on his head. These activities were in addition to the more traditional beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity, pouring cold water on detainees in winter, and death threats against family members.

The United States does not want to allow evidence of this torture, or the countries where it occurred, to be made public. …

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