USA: Presidential order on military tribunals threatens fundamental principles of justice

Since the attacks in the USA on 11 September, Amnesty International has been calling for anyone suspected of involvement in these crimes to be brought to justice in accordance with international standards for a fair trial. This sweeping presidential order bypasses those fundamental principles, in contravention of US obligations under international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the USA in 1992. As such it is unacceptable and should be revoked.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned that the Military Order:

- is discriminatory by affording foreign nationals a lower standard of justice than US nationals;

- gives unfettered and unchallengeable discretionary power to the executive to decide whom will be prosecuted and under what rules, as well as to review convictions and sentences. This is inconsistent with the principle of the separation of the executive and the judiciary;

- expressly bypasses the normal principles of law and rules of evidence applied in the trials of people charged with criminal offences in the US courts;

- provides no right of appeal against conviction or sentence to a higher court, or access to redress for any human rights violations that may occur during arrest, detention or prosecution;

Amnesty International believes that the Military Order creates a parallel system which violates fundamental principles of justice in any circumstances, including in times of war. For example, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ratified by the USA in 1955, require that prisoners of war must be tried in courts which guarantee fundamental rights of fairness, including the right of appeal.

Amnesty International is particularly alarmed that the death penalty may be imposed by such a tribunal. International standards require that the legal process in any capital proceedings provide 'all possible safeguards' to ensure a fair trial, including the right to appeal.

The Military Order creates the risk that people may be executed after a trial conducted by a court whose decision cannot be appealed but only reviewed by the executive who selected the individual for prosecution in the first place.

Amnesty International believes that the Military Order threatens to severely undermine, rather than reinforce, confidence in the administration of justice and maintenance of the rule of law. The organisation considers that in proceedings undertaken pursuant to this order, justice will neither be done, nor seen to be done.

Times of crisis pose particular challenges to governments. It is precisely in such times that the principles of fair justice must be scrupulously upheld. The suffering of the victims of the attacks of 11 September, their families, and the public at large, deserves no less.

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