June 5, 2008, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – As part of a $15 million commitment to provide adequate legal defense for several Guantánamo detainees, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union are present for the arraignment today of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on terrorism-related charges before the Bush administration’s military commissions. Earlier this week, attorneys David Nevin and Scott McKay met for several hours with Mohammed as part of the John Adams Project, a partnership between the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to supplement the under-resourced military defense teams that have been assigned to the detainees.
“At every step of the way, these commissions have denigrated our country’s historic commitment to the principle of due process and compromised America’s reputation in the eyes of the world,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, who is in Guantánamo for today’s arraignment of Mohammed and four other detainees. “The time has come to scrap this illegitimate system and make a fresh start by moving these cases to federal criminal courts or traditional military courts where constitutional guarantees still apply.”
The military commissions allow convictions based on secret evidence, hearsay, and evidence derived from torture – including waterboarding, a technique the government has acknowledged it used on Mohammed.
“The prosecution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will undoubtedly raise the issues of torture, hearsay and secret evidence,” said Nevin. “If the government’s evidence is as strong as it claims, you have to wonder why it lacks the confidence to prove its case in a real court with constitutional protections.”
The proceedings have also been subject to unlawful political influence and are now being rushed through to sway public opinion before the November elections.
“The government has had over six years to build its case and is giving the defense just three short months to prepare for trial – all in an effort to steamroll the process to meet an arbitrary court date clearly designed to influence the elections,” added Romero. “This is a direct assault on the fundamental concepts of American justice and due process.”
The government has scheduled a September 15 trial date for Mohammed and the other four detainees.
“This case is a critical test of the deeply flawed military commission system,” said McKay. “These prosecutions must reflect core American principles of justice and fairness. We can’t just throw out our constitutional values and decide to adhere to the rule of law depending on who is being prosecuted and what the alleged crimes are. That subverts the entire notion of justice.”
Supporters of the ACLU’s efforts include families of 9/11 victims.
“Like others who mourn family members killed on 9/11, I wish for justice and accountability for my son. But secretive proceedings tainted by the use of torture are outside the system of justice on which the honor of this nation depends,” said Patricia Perry, mother of NYPD Officer John William Perry.
“I lost someone I dearly loved on September 11, and have waited too long to see those responsible brought to justice. But these special military tribunals that are stained by politics and deny detainees the basic American principle of due process smack of revenge rather than justice, and mock our legal system and those we lost,” said Valerie Lucznikowski, who lost her nephew, Adam Arias, on 9/11.
ACLU staff attorney Hina Shamsi is also in Guantánamo this week observing the military commission hearing of Saudi national Ahmed Mohammed Al Darbi, who has been held in U.S. custody for nearly six years. Al Darbi has been charged with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism based on alleged connections to al-Qaeda. The ACLU has attended every military commission proceeding since the system’s inception in 2004.