Gitmo Trials Continue Despite Ruling

In spite of a court ruling that halted the military trial of a Guantanamo detainee last week, the military is continuing to conduct another kind of controversial hearing for prisoners held at the U.S. base in Cuba.

On Monday, a prisoner accused of delivering money to the Taliban stood before a Combat Status Review Tribunal made up of military judges.

The Review Tribunals are not criminal trials. Instead, the express purpose of the Review Tribunals is to allow each detainee to try to persuade the military that he is not an “enemy combatant.” The tribunals are the Bush administration’s answer to a summer Supreme Court decision that the Guantanamo detainees must be given the chance to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.

Many human and civil rights groups that have been advocating for the legal rights of the detainees accuse the Bush administration of creating the Review Tribunals in order to prevent the detainees from gaining access to civilian courts, where the standards of evidence and access to legal representation are higher.

Back in early August, when the Review Tribunals began, Jeff Fogel, legal director at Center for Constitutional Rights, slammed the process in a press statement. His organization has been at the forefront of the legal battle to provide basic rights to the detainees held at Guantanamo

“The so-called ‘Personal Representatives’ assigned to [the detainees] have no legal background and are not advocates: they are required to pass on any information gleaned from a detainee during their conversations,” said Fogel, referring to the military officers appointed to assist the prisoners in navigating the Review process. “These tribunals are a sham,” he continued. “The detainees … have no right to meaningfully contest any classified evidence against them, and no meaningful way to call any witnesses in their favor.”

Last Monday a federal judge ruled that the military trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan must be halted. Hamdan, who had already gone through a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, was in the early stages of a criminal trial in front of a panel of military judges. Hamdan’s lawyers successfully argued to the federal judge that the military tribunal under which their client was being tried violated international law.

The crux of their case was that under the Geneva Conventions, Hamdan should be considered a “prisoner of war,” not an “enemy combatant,” as the government had labeled him in order to keep him out of the jurisdiction of the Conventions. U.S. District Judge James Robertson agreed with Hamdan’s lawyers, writing, “Hamdan has asserted his entitlement to POW status, and the Army’s regulations provide that whenever a detainee makes such a claim his status is ‘in doubt.'”

Robertson further wrote that “there is nothing in this record to suggest that a competent tribunal has determined that Hamdan is not a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions.” Noting that the Combatant Status Review Tribunals were “not established to address detainees’ status under the Geneva Conventions,” Robertson ordered that a “competent tribunal” must be convened to determine the matter and that unless such a commission decides Hamdan is not a prisoner of war, he must be afforded all relevant rights of a person protected by the Conventions.

Though last week’s ruling applied only to Hamdan, many analysts suggest that the decision, which is being appealed by the government, carried implications for the entire legal structure set up by the Bush administration to try the detainees held at Guantanamo

Thus far, however, it does not appear to have affected the ongoing Combat Status Review hearings.

In related news, family members and supporters of four British citizens being held at Guantanamo held a Sunday protest to pressure Tony Blair’s administration into securing the prisoners’ release from the prison camp.

Amir Karim, a relative of one of the detained men, was quoted by the Scotsman as saying, “The entire legal process is a farce, and the lawyers have come to the end of the road in using all legal channels.”

Karim added, “We simply ask for a fair trial in open court in Britain – is that too much to ask?”

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