At Guantanamo, Detainees Are Presumed Guilty
Washington, DC (April 4, 2011) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) agrees with Attorney General Eric Holder’s assessment that the federal courts have proven to be an unparalleled instrument for trying terrorism cases. The federal courts have handled numerous terrorism cases with just, reliable results without security breaches and federal prosecutors have the tools for prosecuting persons believed to be terrorists, including over 40 specific terrorism statutes and nearly 100 other federal laws.
But when the attorney general spoke of “bring[ing] the conspirators to justice,” he was ignoring the constitutional and common law mandate that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. That principle is the bedrock upon which our system of justice is founded.
The military commission system is not about seeking justice as much as it is about obtaining convictions. At Guantanamo, the detainees are presumed guilty by virtue of their detention, and are hamstrung in defending themselves.
“Despite some cosmetic changes since the Bush-era commissions, the commission rules still permit the government to introduce secret evidence, hearsay and statements obtained through coercion,” said the association’s Executive Director, Norman Reimer. “NACDL maintains that the rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. Therefore a vigorous and properly resourced defense is essential.”
If the Department of Defense decides to seek the death penalty for any detainee, NACDL calls upon the Convening Authority to ensure that adequate funding and resources are provided to defense counsel to ensure that the commission proceedings comport with the American Bar Association’s Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases and the capital defense provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In the long term, the best weapon in the war on terror is adherence to the Bill of Rights. True Americans accept no less.