Friday, March 04, 2005

Detainees, human rights, and international standards

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Salim Hamdan's lawyer, addresses the "war on terror"

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden, was apprehended in 2001 by a local group of bounty hunters in Saudi Arabia and delivered to the American authorities in exchange for $5,000. Brought to the United States and detained in Guantanamo Bay, Hamdan has challenged both his detention and the trial by military commission that was preliminarily approved by the Supreme Court in June.

On Monday, his lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, spoke at Columbia about the conditions of Hamdan's arrest and detention. Even after he was assigned to defend Hamdan before a commission, the government told him that he could access his client only to discuss a guilty plea--and, moreover, the government wouldn't say what Hamdan should or would be charged with: the accused and his lawyer were supposed to come up with a series of charges, and then plead guilty to them.

But neither Hamdan nor Lt. Cmdr. Swift were willing to do so--particularly since Hamdan had never been in the military and hadn't even shot at anyone (notwithstanding President Bush's determination that Hamdan was in the military and was therefore an "enemy combatant"). Having won Hamdan's right to be present at all hearings related to his case, Lt. Cmdr. Swift is currently engaged in defending Hamdan in both a trial by military commission and a trial in US Federal Court.

In November, DC District Judge Robertson ruled that unless and until the Government determines via competent tribunal that Hamdan is not entitled to POW status, he may only be tried by court martial; that until the procedures of military commissions were brought into line with the UCMJ by allowing Hamdan access to hearings and to the evidence against him, they are unlawful; and that Hamdan had to be released from solitary confinement at Camp Echo and returned to regular detainment with other prisoners.

The issue of the constitutionality of the military tribunals set up to try war crimes suspects is on appeal to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals; ScotusBlog reports that oral argument has been postponed to April 7 (previously scheduled for March 8).

Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch on torture and international law

HRW Special Counsel Reed Brody spoke on Abu Ghraib and its aftermath at Columbia on Tuesday, focusing on the lack of accountability evidenced by a failure to charge any higher-ups with establishing policies overly tolerant of torture.

Brody noted that although Secty. Powell told the world to watch America and see how it would do the right thing in bringing the Abu Ghraib abusers to justice, ten months afterward there has been little change. Though justice and accountability distinguish Rule of Law nations from dictatorships and banana republics, he noted, we're still waiting to see significant change in war policy.

Beyond the detention centers that the world knows about--most prominently Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay--Brody noted that the United States is also holding "high-value" detainees in secret locations. Not even their governments know where they are; though Indonesia requested access to one of its citizens in order to collect legal testimony, the United States refused to furnish information--even though Indonesia had originally given up the suspect.

In response to cases like that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen taken to Syria, held there for a year, and tortured--allegedly by the agency of the United States--Rep. Edward Markey (D, MA) introduced anti-rendition legislation this week.

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