The Hamdan case: driving a coach a horses through justice

Like a certain pair of British protestors highlighting Tibet and human rights in Beijing yesterday, George Bush’s recent remarks about China and human rights were well-timed. 

A “blunt condemnation” according to the Times, and there’s no doubt about it - hearing Dubya saying that China needs to do more to improve human rights in China is definitely welcome.

Except - and call me a stickler for consistency if you must - but wasn’t yesterday also the day that the White House hailed the first misbegotten Guantánamo trial a great success?  Some success.

If the trial of Salim Hamdan hasn’t been a full-blown political trial (and plenty of people would argue that it has), it’s certainly been a point-scoring one.

The first verdict in a Guantánamo case - albeit more than six and half years after the first shackled, jumpsuited and blindfolded prisoners were deposited in this Caribbean garrison - was, I suppose, always going to be a big deal. A pro-Administration spokesman was on Channel 4 News last night saying all was good with this trial - a hard-faced, reality-denying performance that had my partner phoning me up seconds afterwards (I think she’s possibly got too much time on her hands at the moment….).

But, hold on a minute. Aren’t these “military commissions” the very same trials that can allow “evidence” that may have been waterboarded out of shivering wretches in secret black site prisons?

And, come to think of it, aren’t these also the same trials that only try non-Americans, that can impose the death penalty with only limited means of appeal, and, when all is said and done, aren’t they also courts that can’t actually order the release of enemy combatants even if they are acquitted? [Update: the Times from Saturday 9 August has an excellent leader article on this].  

The US administration and its defenders insist that Hamdan’s conviction is “not from a kangaroo court” and maybe they’re right. I’ve never been totally sure when a shabby travesty of justice becomes a bona fide kangaroo court and when it doesn’t. (Perhaps when it involves a court’s officials striking a deal with the only other “guilty” person at Guantánamo, the Australian David Hicks – who was, and I'm not making this up, a former kangaroo-skinner, whose plea-bargain in Cuba in 2007 saw him eventually sent back to Oz).

In a way, you can tell how far the Guantánamo approach is from real justice when you start getting artist-provocateurs opening Guantánamo- and waterboarding-themed installations at places like New York's Coney Island.

As Amnesty has always said, people like Hamdan may or may not be guilty of serious crimes, but you are not going to reliably find that out at Guantánamo. Amnesty is pushing for Guantánamo to be shut down and for all its beleaguered inmates to - finally - be brought into the fold of a regular legal system. All prisoners should get either a proper trial or be safely released. This should apply to UK resident Binyam Mohamed and all the other 265 caught in this legal no-man’s-land.

The relatives of the victims of that horrible morning’s crime in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania seven years ago surely deserve to see the perpetrators brought to justice in exemplary trials. Anything else is quite simply an insult to them. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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