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No lawyers, no press – no justice?

March 9, 2007

When the military tribunals start their secret proceedings against 14 “high-value” terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, it will be behind closed doors and away from the scrutiny of the media.

The hearings are meant to determine whether a prisoner is an “enemy combatant.” According to CNN, if the prisoner is deemed to be an enemy combatant, then President Bush can take away his rights to a fair trial and send him to a military trial.

According to the Independent, the 14 detainees have already had some of their legal rights stripped away. None of them will be allowed to have a lawyer present during the hearings. Campaigners reacted by condemning the secret proceedings as well as the planned military tribunals.

This is far from the first time the treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners is condemned. The military tribunals were even deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. In September, however, Congress passed new legislation ensuring that the military trials could proceed. The new legislation stripped the detainees of almost all legal rights, even the 800-year-old principle of habeas corpus !

Shame on Bush!

The Bush administration has all reason to be ashamed of the whole debacle. In, fact, they seem to be. Both CNN and the Independent state that reporters will be barred from the hearings. No word of the hearings will be made public until the government releases a transcript of the proceedings. Even then, the names of the detainees will probably be withheld. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told the CNN that reporters will be barred from the hearings “in order to protect national security”. Clive Stafford Smith, of the Reprieve group, which represents several dozen Guantanamo prisoners thinks otherwise.

– They are trying to stop anyone saying anything about the way [the detainees] have been abused or which countries they were abused in, he told the Independent.

Sadly, I find it very likely that Stafford Smith is right. Why would the Bush administration ban lawyers if they were really planning to give the detainees a fair trial? Can a trial without lawyers ever be a fair one? And if the prisoners were really treated fairly, why ban the press? Until free, independent press reports otherwise, I for one believe that grave injustice is done both at Guantanamo, at these hearings and at countless secret CIA prisons around the world.

Photo: US Navy /Wikimedia Commons

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