USA: Guantánamo Bay - New report condemns military trials as ‘travesty of justice’

Call for UK to refuse any cooperation with ‘military commission’ trials and to provide assistance to UK residents

In a major new report published today (22 March), Amnesty International has condemned the proposed “military commission” tribunals at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba as unfair and “a travesty of justice”.

The trials, due to begin with an arraignment of Australian national David Hicks on 26 March, are comprehensively criticised by Amnesty International in its 103-page report, entitled “Justice delayed and justice denied”.

The human rights organisation, which has analysed the Military Commissions Act (2006) and the recently-released Manual for Military Commissions, is strongly critical of the trials. The trials will be run wholly by the US military, will allow evidence obtained under duress and from illegal secret detention centres, will potentially refuse to disclose sources of “evidence” and can impose the death penalty (including for “spying”) with only limited means of appeal. The military commissions are also clearly discriminatory, and only non-US nationals will appear before them.

In another unfair Guantánamo process, detainees have been labelled “enemy combatants” and denied basic human rights even as they face military trials. Under sweeping powers granted to US President George Bush in 2001, “enemy combatants” can be detained indefinitely - even after a military trial and even if the trial should find the person innocent.

Amnesty International has long called for Guantánamo’s closure, and its supporters are now writing directly to the US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates calling for the Military Commission trials to be abandoned with existing ordinary courts to be used in the case of any prosecutions.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“After more than five years of holding hundreds of prisoners in a virtual legal vacuum the US authorities are now adding insult to injury by pressing ahead with grossly unfair trials.

“Military commissions are a complete travesty of justice - no more, no less.

“We want to see the US government abandon these shabby show trials and transfer Guantánamo cases to proper civilian federal courts on the US mainland.

“All allegations of torture and other mistreatment should be thoroughly and independently investigated and anyone not allowed a proper trial should be released to a safe country as soon as possible.”

Amnesty International is calling for all governments around the world to refuse cooperation with the military commissions in recognition of their deeply unfair nature. In addition, the human rights organisation is urging all countries to press for the closure of Guantánamo and to assist in the voluntary resettlement of released detainees where possible, especially as regards former habitual residents.

Kate Allen added:

“Recently we’ve begun to hear relatively strong criticism from the UK government about the ‘affront to democracy’ that Guantánamo represents. Now we want to see that backed by action.

“Tony Blair and other ministers should step in - not just in terms of making it abundantly clear that Guantánamo’s trials are a travesty of justice, but also by calling for UK residents held at Guantánamo to be given fair trials or immediately released.”

At least eight men with UK residency rights are among the approximately 370 detainees currently held at Guantánamo. They include 37-year-old old Brighton resident Omar Deghayes, who has been held at the prison camp for over four years after being detained without legal safeguards in Pakistan in 2002, before rendition to Afghanistan and Guantánamo.

Amani Deghayes, Mr Deghayes’ sister, said:

“It’s frightening that my brother’s ordeal at Guantánamo could now include a sham trial before an unfair military court.

“The family has always said that we’re not looking for special favours for Omar - only justice. We want Omar to get a fair trial or to get his release - and we want the UK government to stop sitting on its hands and to help him and the other UK residents.

Mr Deghayes, whose family are officially recognised refugees from Libya (having fled persecution under Colonel Gaddafi’s regime), alleges that he has been tortured by US guards at Guantánamo. He has also told his lawyer that Libyan intelligence officers have been allowed to interrogate him in the camp - with one official allegedly threatening Mr Deghayes with death if he were ever returned to Libya.

Amnesty International believes that the UK government’s refusal to help UK residents is untenable and that the UK is duty-bound to assist people resident in the UK, many of whom are refugees and have British nationals as family members.

In addition to the closure of Guantánamo Bay, Amnesty International is calling for all other “war on terror” detention centres - including secret CIA-run facilities - to be identified and closed, with detainees allowed lawyers and either properly charged or released. Meanwhile, the organisation is urging President Bush to rescind the Military Order of November 2001 which authorises detention without charge or trial.

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