[Ppnews] A Kangaroo Court Would Be an Improvement

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 21 08:51:21 EST 2006


<http://willyritch.com/?p=557>A Kangaroo Court Would Be an Improvement

[Links to listen to the tapes are at the NPR website below]


NPR has obtained tapes of portions of the 
hearings held at Guantanamo Bay that are supposed 
to determine if the detainees being held there 
are “enemy combatants.” NPR got hold of the tapes 
through a Freedom of Information request, and 
were only able to obtain tapes of the 
“unclassified” portion of the proceedings. (In 
fact, even the detainees themselves are not 
allowed to hear what happens during the 
classified sections.) In the tapes that NPR 
broadcast, we hear a detainee who has been held 
for five years. In his single hearing he tells 
the court he is not a combatant, but the only 
witnesses he can call on his behalf are other detainees.

In a story that ran yesterday on NPR, a lawyer 
for two detainees said that in about 400 cases he 
studied, nearly every time the result was the 
same: the hearing ended with the government 
declaring that the defendant was an enemy 
combatant, often that same day. Mark Denbeaux 
says that in the few cases the tribunal found the 
detainees not to be enemy combatants, when that 
result reached Washington the Defense Department 
ordered a rehearing, and if necessary a 
“re-rehearing” until the tribunal finally came up 
with the desired result: a decision that the 
detainees was, in fact, an enemy combatant.

Denbeaux tells NPR that in the cases he studied 
the government did not provide a single witness 
for their cases and in only a dozen or so 
instances did they offer any evidence at all in 
the portion of the trial that the detainee was 
allowed to attend. Detainees were allowed to 
challenge the evidence against them, but since 
that evidence was all confined to the secret 
portion of the hearing, they had no way of 
knowing what that evidence actually was.

In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that the 
government cannot simply declare someone an enemy 
combatant and hold them indefinitely without any 
sort of judicial review. In that 8-1 decision 
there was some disagreement over what the 
government did have to do with these detainees. 
Although two justices wrote that the government 
had to give the detainees a full, US-style 
hearing in court, but in the end the majority 
opinion only required the government to come up 
with a type of hearing that allowed detainees a 
“meaningful” chance to challenge their detention. 
The government reacted by saying the detainees at 
Guantanamo would be able to challenge their 
status as enemy combatants in what is called the 
“Combatant Status Review Tribunal.” It is the 
tapes of those hearings that NPR has obtained.

Tapes Provide First Glimpse of Secret Gitmo Panels


Listen to this story...

Edition, November 21, 2006 · Audio recordings 
obtained by NPR provide the outside world with 
its first window into the secret world of 
military tribunals at the U.S. prison camp for 
terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The recordings, made by the U.S. military, are of 
tribunals held in the fall of 2004 to review the 
"enemy combatant" status of six detainees who 
were arrested in Bosnia in late 2001. Lawyers for 
the men obtained the tapes under the Freedom of 
Information Act and provided NPR with copies of the recordings.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals are held in 
small, low-ceiling trailers at Guantanamo Bay. 
The Pentagon describes the proceedings as an 
administrative process, so the detainees are not 
allowed lawyers. There's a court reporter, a 
translator and a panel of three military officers 
to whom detainees tell their story, ask why they 
are being held, and appeal for release.

The audio recordings of the Combatant Status 
Review Tribunals are scratchy, of poor quality 
and don't pick up much of what's happening in the 
small room: You can't sense facial expressions or 
body language, or that the detainee's arms and legs are shackled.

However, you can hear the tribunal president 
inquire after the health and comfort of Mustafa 
Ait Idir, one of several men whose tribunal tapes 
were reviewed for this story.

"Are those on too tight?" the panel president 
asks, referring to the shackles on Ait Idir's hands and feet.

"He says, 'I've had them on for a very long 
time,'" a translator responds for the detainee.

No Set Pattern for Proceedings

Testimony at the tribunals doesn't appear to 
follow any set pattern. Some start with 
questioning from the military officers. At 
others, the detainee will launch into a speech 
about how they were arrested and sent to 
Guantanamo, and how they're being treated at the 
detention camp. Ait Idir speaks through a 
translator for almost an hour before the tribunal 
president interrupts him to inquire further about an incident of alleged abuse.

"Are you saying a soldier in Guantanamo Bay, 
Cuba, broke your fingers?" the tribunal president asks.

"Soldiers took me and they placed me on the 
ground in the rocks outside. They bound my hands 
and my feet," Ait Idir responds through a 
translator. He goes on to describe brutal 
treatment allegedly at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

Ait Idir is one of six Algerians who lived in 
Bosnia for about a decade before being arrested 
shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 
2001, on suspicion of plotting to bomb the 
American and British embassies in Sarajevo.

The men were held for three months, until 
Bosnia's Supreme Court acquitted all of them. Ait 
Idir and the others tell the tribunal that when 
they walked out of the police station as free 
men, they were quickly arrested again by Bosnian 
and U.S. officials, put on a plane and sent to Guantanamo.

Learning of the Accusations Against Them

Hadj Boudella, one of the other detainees, tells 
the military panel at his tribunal that this is 
the first time he's heard some of the accusations against him.

"I've been here for three years, and these 
accusations were just told to me," Boudella says. 
"Nobody or any interrogator ever mentioned any of 
these accusations you are talking to me about now."

What's striking is that, despite not knowing 
fully why they're being held, enduring open-ended 
detentions and sometimes harsh interrogations, 
the detainees on these audio tapes express faith 
that truth will prevail. Boudella tells the panel 
that his lawyers -- at the Boston firm Wilmerhale 
-- sent him a letter telling him not to 
participate in the tribunal for fear of incriminating himself.

"I want to show you that I am really innocent, 
and I want you to see I can defend myself," 
Boudella says on the recording. "If you're 
innocent, no matter how people try to cover your innocence, it will come out."

Unclassified Evidence Is Slim

The detainees question the panel about the 
evidence against them and ask for proof, rather 
than just allegations. The audio recordings and 
transcripts show that the unclassified evidence 
is slim; for example, just a rundown of 
allegations, petitions for habeus corpus, which 
challenges the prisoners' detention, and 
affidavits attached to those petitions; one has a 
letter from Ait Idir's wife. At one point, Ait 
Idir expresses disbelief over the lack of proof 
and tells the panel he hoped it had more evidence it could give him.

"If I was in your place, but if a supervisor came 
to me and showed me accusations like these, I 
would take these accusations and I would hit him 
in the face with them," he tells the panel, apologizing for being so blunt.

Ait Idir, Boudella and the others on the 
recordings all ask that they be allowed to 
provide the tribunal with additional evidence, 
such as a copy of the decision by Bosnia's 
Supreme Court, showing their acquittal.

One detainee asked that his supervisor at the Red 
Crescent Society in Bosnia testify at the 
proceeding. He is told that a request was made 
twice to the U.S. State Department, which handles 
the matter; each time, the date of the tribunal 
was emphasized. The tribunal president says there 
was no response from the State Department to either request.

In some cases, the detainees' representatives 
don't know what efforts have or are being made to 
locate requested evidence. The only witnesses 
available to Ait Idir and Boudella are the other 
men they were arrested with. Boudella asks one 
witness the most pertinent question: "Do you know 
if I belong to any terrorist organization or if I am a terrorist?"

In a simple, almost naïve answer, the witness 
tells the tribunal that Boudella is not a 
terrorist. "All I know about this person is that 
he is a very nice and very good person. He takes 
good care of his family," the other detainee says.

Critics Call Process Deeply Flawed

The military panel asks the detainees many 
questions during each tribunal: Where they grew 
up, where they worked, if they'd ever been to 
Afghanistan, if they belonged to any terrorist 
organizations. Then, the panel wraps up the 
unclassified session of the tribunal.

"Mustafa, you shall be notified of the tribunal 
decision upon completion of the review of these 
proceedings by the convening authority in 
Washington, D.C.," the tribunal president tells Ait Idir.

That was two years ago. Ait Idir and Boudella 
were both found to be enemy combatants and remain 
at Guantanamo Bay. In January, they will have 
spent five years in the prison camp. They have 
yet to be charged with any crimes.

Critics have always said that the Guantanamo 
tribunals are deeply flawed. Among other things, 
they point to the fact that detainees are only 
allowed to sit in for the unclassified session of 
the tribunal. They are banned from seeing or 
hearing the classified information against them.

Lawyers at Seton Hall University recently 
evaluated the records and transcripts for nearly 
400 similar military hearings at Guantanamo. In 
most cases, they found, the government did not 
produce any witnesses at the tribunals, and 
detainees were only allowed to use other detainees at witnesses.

"Ninety-six percent of the time, [the government] 
produced no evidence of any sort," Seton Hall law 
professor Mark Denbeaux told NPR's Robert Siegel. 
Denbeaux represents two detainees and co-authored the report.

"They relied instead on secret evidence that was 
classified," Denbeaux says. "And the government's 
procedure was, anything in that secret evidence 
was presumed to be valuable and valid. And then 
the detainee was given the opportunity to rebut 
the secret evidence. But he was never told what the secret evidence was."

The Pentagon dismisses such criticisms, arguing 
that the tribunals are fair, and that the 
detainees are allowed to state their case, and 
produce witnesses and evidence of their own.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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