Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Cheney Comes Down on Side of the Torturers

From American Progress....

Military lawyers are making a strong push to make substantial changes to the military tribunals used to try terrorist suspects that would bring them more in line with military courts-martial. The tribunals, created in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, are a significant departure from traditional American military and civil courts.

However, despite repeated setbacks in the federal courts, serious questions regarding their ability to reach accurate judgments, and widespread criticism of the tribunals by foreign governments and human rights groups, Vice President Cheney and his staff are blocking any changes to the tribunals.

Cheney is stifling changes to tribunals even though the federal courts have blocked further prosecutions. It took two years for the Pentagon to finally organize and hold the first hearing before the commissions, but only three months for a federal district judge to rule that the tribunals were "fatally contrary to or inconsistent with" American military or civilian trials. The Pentagon halted the hearings and moved forward on addressing some of the criticisms from the courts and allied governments. Despite the impasse, Cheney's staff has led the campaign to block improvements to the tribunals unless forced to do so by the courts.

Cheney favors the continued use of information obtained by torture. The proposed new rules for the tribunals would make inadmissible any "confession or admission that was procured from the accused by torture." Torture is immoral and has no place in any American legal proceeding. In addition, information gained through torture has long been viewed as suspect at best and often totally inaccurate. It should never be allowed to play any role in a determination that could lead to the execution or indefinite detention of a prisoner, terrorist suspect or not. By blocking even this change, Cheney comes down on the side of the torturers.

Tribunals are no substitute for properly constituted hearings in military or civilian courts. Even with these proposed changes, significant questions remain about the efficacy of the tribunals. One tribunal ordered a detainee to remain in custody despite the conclusion of U.S. investigators that it was a mistake to hold him. And as the legal challenges to the tribunals continue, 540 detainees remain in legal limbo at the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The tribunals should be scrapped altogether and the prisoners at Guantanamo should be given a fair trial as required by U.S. and international law.

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