BBC, Aug. 8, 2003
By Rachel Clarke, BBC News Online in Washington
The Pentagon’s top lawyer has insisted that terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay will be treated fairly if they go on trial.
“The military commissions will be transparent,” said William Haynes, the chief legal officer at the US defence department and legal adviser to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
No military trials have yet been ordered for any of the hundreds of suspects held at the US base on Cuba but two Britons – Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abassi – have been named with four other men as suitable candidates for the first tribunals.
U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
|Information about U.S. human rights violations and related issues is included in Religion News Blog for the following reasons:
Apologetics Index deals with cults, sects, and related issues – including religious freedom and other human rights.
America’s goverment frequently accuses countries (including, for example, France and Germany) that protect their citizens against destructive and/or fraudulent cults of violating ‘human rights.’ In addition, the USA even threathens those countries with economic boycotts should they not accept America’s views on these issues.
This makes the USA the only country in the world that attempts to strong-arm other countries into accepting its views on the cults it supports – a primary reason why this issue is addressed by the publishers of Apologetics Index.
Ironically, while America chides other countries for alleged human righs violations, Washington consistently and deliberately refuses to address America’s dismal record of human rights violations. The Bible condemns the use of such differing measures.
As Christians, the publishers of Apologetic Index believe that they (and other Christians) should address human rights issues.
The publishers of Apologetics Index agree with those who believe that America’s attitude toward international law – including its fight against the International Criminal Court, its use of torture, and its inconsistent application of the Geneva Conventions – presents a serious threat to the international community.
As members of Amnesty International, the publishers of Apologetics Index are outspoken critics of America’s manifold human rights violations. They encourage their fellow Christians to address these issues, keeping in mind the Bible’s two great commandments.
The US and UK governments are in negotiations about the fate of the British detainees and there is now agreement that the men will not face the death penalty if convicted of terrorist offences.
Mr Haynes is set to travel to London next week for more talks with UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith as the detainees’ families and lawyers continue to express concern about the fairness of the military system.
Americans have been tried by military commissions before now, though US citizens such as John Walker Lindh who were captured in Afghanistan or other anti-terror operations have their cases handled in civilian courts.
But that did not mean there was anything wrong with the form of justice ordered for non-citizens by US President George W Bush, Mr Haynes told a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
“I’m confident that one thing that the military in the United States does very well is take and follow through with lawful orders from superiors,” he said.
“The president has asked the secretary of defence that if he tries anybody using military commissions, he should conduct full and fair trials – that is what will be done.”
“I can assure you that the military officers who swore to uphold the constitution of the United States will do a very good job,” Mr Haynes added, responding to a question from BBC News Online.
He said basic protections and standards would apply as they do in any court case in the US – defendants would have the right to challenge evidence and would be innocent until proven guilty, for instance.
But the existence of detention centres like Guantanamo Bay and the option to try suspects in military commissions was a useful tool in the US’ fight against terrorism which has no traditional rules or battlefields as in conventional warfare.
“We are interested first and foremost in protecting against people who would be trying to kill Americans and others from getting back on the battlefield and doing harm again,” Mr Haynes said.
Morton Halperin, who headed an American Civil Liberties Union project seeking to reconcile the requirements of national security with civil liberties, agreed that military tribunals would deliver fair trials.
“But it’s important that we do justice and be seen to do justice,” he told the same forum.
The differences between the handling of cases involving US citizens and foreigners could be confusing, particularly at a time when the US continues to encourage other countries not to use military tribunals if they have a functioning and independent civil court system.
“We want to think about the message we are sending to the rest of the world,” he said.
Michael Chertoff, an appeals court judge and former justice department official who was speaking in a personal capacity, said it would be a “fundamental error” to think that military commissions would offer anything less than full justice.
Because of the likely attention, judges and lawyers may even go further than usual to ensure a proper hearing, he said.
“It would be a big mistake to assume that judges in military tribunals will take a dive.”