The John Adams Project is a partnership between NACDL and the ACLU that sponsors expert civilian counsel to assist the under-resourced military defense lawyers for several detainees facing prosecution at Guantánamo Bay. We took this step because of our grave concerns that the military commissions do not reflect our country's commitment to justice and due process. Counter to American traditions of fairness and justice, the commissions may rely on hearsay and coerced confessions, and expressly preclude prisoners from invoking the Geneva Conventions.
Protecting the Rule of Law
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the original military commission system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantánamo Bay was unlawful because it had not been authorized by Congress. Unfortunately, in 2006, Congress provided that authorization when it passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), legitimizing a system of military tribunals that fails to meet minimum due process standards.
The ACLU and NACDL have consistently and vehemently condemned the grave flaws of the Military Commissions Act, and are heartened by President Obama’s January 22nd executive order calling for a temporary halt to the Military Commission cases and for the closure of the Guantanamo prison camps within one year. NACDL continues to urge President Obama to complete the prisoner review process as quickly as possible so that the prisoners may be released and returned to their homes, or, if evidence warrants, criminal prosecution in federal courts or military courts martial.
Military Commission Pleadings
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Statements of Support
Jimmy Carter - Former US President
I applaud efforts of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to ensure that the principles of our country are not compromised and the Guantanamo detainees are afforded a fair trial with basic rights of due process. "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason." The words articulated by Justice Robert Jackson in the opening statement before that International Military Tribunal in prosecution of Nazi war criminals in Nuremburg more than fifty years ago still hold true today as our country initiates the prosecution of the "high-value" detainees in Guantanamo. In prosecuting these individuals, our own country's commitment to the principles of justice are tested in the treatment that we afford to the worst of the offenders under the most extreme circumstances.
Norman Reimer - Executive Director, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
NACDL believes that every accused person has the right to competent defense counsel to prepare a defense. This is no less true for the Guantanamo detainees who face prosecution and possible execution by the U.S. government. In light of the government's stated intention to seek the death penalty against the so-called "high value" detainees, it is critical to America's international reputation that these individuals have access to defense teams with resources that are at least on par with any other federal capital prosecutions. Accordingly, NACDL is working to assemble fully-staffed and experienced defense teams. These teams will be available to augment military defense counsel, subject to request by military counsel and their assigned clients.
It is especially appropriate that the nation's preeminent criminal defense bar association assists in facilitating representation for these detainees. The announced rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government's commitment to constitutional principles that are the bedrock of American liberty. A vigorous and properly resourced defense is essential to contest these proceedings.
Military and civilian NACDL lawyers have been representing detainees for almost five years, in the civilian courts, before military commissions and in the federal courts and will continue to do so as part of our mission to ensure competent representation and due process for all. The association itself has filed nearly a dozen friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of military prisoners in the war on terror, including Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, the case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the government goes forward with commission prosecutions and seeks the death penalty for any detainee, we feel obligated to marshal the resources of the defense community and render whatever assistance the military defense office requests on its own behalf and on behalf of its clients.
That will require funding. Capital cases are expensive, often prohibitively so. There is no realistic way to expect experienced capital defense counsel to devote many months defending a person on trial for his life in a courtroom far from home without support. NACDL will seek to provide that support.
Janet Reno - Former US Attorney General
The ACLU and NACDL's efforts to ensure that fundamental American legal protections and principles are preserved in these cases are certainly worthy of support. This is the time to demonstrate to the world that the United States need not abandon its principles, even as it seeks to ensure the safety of its citizens.
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Retired) - Navy JAG (1997 to 2000); Current President and Dean, Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, NH
I stand here today greatly troubled by the use of military commissions to prosecute Guantanamo detainees – troubled because we could do so much better.
As a former Navy judge advocate, I spent 28 years in the military justice system. We were able consistently and effectively to try challenging cases without compromising our nation's ideals or the rights of the accused. Those proceedings reflected the great principles of jurisprudence that have guided our country for centuries.
It is not as if we don't know how to do it. Think of what was achieved at Nuremberg. How justice was delivered after the My Lai atrocities. The way the military justice system has handled the myriad complicated and important cases over the years. Even Saddam Hussein was given a fair and open trial in Iraq, largely because our country convinced the Iraqi government of the importance of giving Hussein far better treatment than he offered his victims.
I have the greatest faith in the ability of military attorneys to conduct fair trials. We have seen what they can do throughout the long and honorable history of our military's courts martial system. However, I believe the brand of justice the current administration is now instituting via the Military Commissions Act does not reflect that long and honorable standard. I know the men and women who have been given the challenging job of defending these detainees have worked to provide zealous advocacy and will continue to do so. However, they are working within a system that they did not create, and that does not measure up to the standards of either our military or civilian criminal justice systems.
I was an early and ardent supporter of the use of military commissions to prosecute our enemies. They could have stood as a shining example to the world for how the United States treats its enemies. Unfortunately, I changed my mind after seeing how they have been conceived. We are now, as a country, seeking to prosecute Guantanamo detainees with military commissions that are, regrettably, neither appropriate, legal nor a true reflection of American ideas and ideals.
As the proceedings have been designed, standard elements of a fair trial are absent from the commissions: prosecutors will be able to use evidence potentially obtained by torture; prosecutors need not share evidence with the defendants that is deemed to be classified; the right to confrontation will be severely limited; and hearsay evidence will be permitted.
The fact that the Guantanamo detainees have been accused of horrible crimes makes it even more important that we treat them in a way that is ethical and fair and grants them access to due process. The U.S. military and civil court system was created to find justice for victims, seek appropriate punishments for those convicted, fair hearing and spirited defense for the accused and exoneration for those whose guilt cannot be proven. It is not a rule of law if it applied only when it is convenient. It is not a human right if it only applies to some people.
I hope my fellow Americans will support the ACLU and NACDL as I do in asking the government to grant these detainees fair trials that follow the principals of due process provided in our Constitution. Let's bring this process into the light of day and restore American justice as we know it to be -- fair, equal and for all people.
Nothing can be gained from show trials or kangaroo courts. We know this truth as a people. Now is not the time to forget all we know of jurisprudence and the value of its proper application.
Patricia Perry - Mother of John William Perry, an NYPD officer killed on 9/11 helping people escape from the WTC
My name is Patricia Perry and I am here on behalf of my son -- NYPD Officer John William Perry who was killed on 9/11 while helping people escape the World Trade Center.
Six and one-half years have passed since his death and our family and John's friends continue to miss our cherished son, loving brother and caring friend. He can no longer speak for himself and I am privileged to give voice to
John was dedicated to the service of others and joined and served eight years in the New York City Police Department. Prior to that he completed law school and used his education to provide pro bono service to individuals whose civil rights and civil liberties had been violated.
On the morning of 9/11/2001 John submitted his NYPD retirement papers just as the first plane crashed through Tower One. He immediately reacted by retrieving his badge, buying a police polo shirt since he was not in uniform and then ran from One Police Plaza to the World Trade Center. There he joined other officers in directing the flow of escaping building occupants. While helping others, he also became a victim himself.
Today I am only one voice. But our family and his many friends believe that John would fully support the ACLU in this decision to fight the injustice taking place at Guantanamo.
John strongly believed in the integrity of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and in the institutions of our government established to use legal means to prosecute those who stand accused.
I believe that Guantanamo's military commissions do not reflect those principles of justice and that John would protest such procedures. No matter how horrible the crimes the detainees in Guantanamo are accused of committing – and all of us who lost family members or had friends and family who survived but continue to be haunted by those events know how ghastly they were – these accused individuals should receive a fair and open trial that reflect our nation's professed values and commitment to due process.
I want justice for my son and all daughters, sons, husbands, wives, partners, mothers and fathers killed on 9/11.
However, what justice do we receive if proceedings are held in secret, tainted by evidence extracted by torture in methods reprehensible to all the values we hold dear? Justice for my beloved son John should reflect what he stood for in life: the ideals of our country and service to the people he was assisting on the day he died.
Lt. Col. Stuart Couch - Lawyer and officer in the US Marine Corps
Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch is a lawyer and officer in the United States Marine Corps. In 2004, Lt. Colonel Couch withdrew from the prosecution of a Guantánamo Bay detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, because he believed the evidence he was asked to use to prosecute Slahi had been obtained through torture, and was therefore inadmissible under U.S. and international law.
From his ABA 2007 Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award Speech
The issue of detainee treatment touches and concerns every case that will be brought for prosecution before military commissions, and all participants in the process should be equipped to deal with it in ways that are consistent with our American values of fair play and justice, that maximize our credibility in the court of public opinion, and uphold this nation's obligations to duly ratified international treaties.
The challenge for all involved at this stage in the process – Congress, the Executive branch, the Judiciary, and especially trial participants – is to clear a path forward so that as a nation we can be proud of what we do in these prosecutions, while taking into account where we are and not where we wish we were.
Our nation needs to lay claim to the humane treatment of detainees not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans who recognize the inherent worth and value of fellow human beings, regardless of the despicable criminal acts they may have committed.
William Webster - Chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council
Director of the FBI from 1978 to 1987 and Director of the CIA from 1987 to 1991, Webster is a former federal judge and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
I support the ACLU's and NACDL's efforts to provide competent legal representation to those detainees at Guantánamo Bay who will be brought before the military commission. This is in the highest tradition of American values.
September 11th Advocates -
Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken
The September 11th Advocates are women whose spouses died on 9/11. The group was instrumental in the formation of the 9/11 Commissions and later called for a new, independent panel.
As women whose husbands were killed on September 11, 2001, we feel strongly that the perpetrators of that horrific crime should be brought to justice. But first it is imperative to prove that these six detainees are indeed the guilty parties.
Unfortunately, the Administration insists on trying the suspects in the broken military commissions system. Prosecuting these men within a system that is secretive in nature and lacking in due process, and which uses evidence tainted by questionable interrogation methods and possibly even torture, is a dangerous endeavor. All Americans, and indeed the entire international community, must have the opportunity to witness for themselves the body of evidence that ties these individuals to the 9/11 terrorists' plot. Otherwise the credibility of any verdict will lack legitimacy. Moreover, unless these trials are above reproach, any convictions will bring the wrath of the international community, damaging what is left of America's standing in the world. Considering that we continue to rely heavily on cooperation from other nations to provide us with intelligence information on would be terrorists, this course of action can only be detrimental to these crucial relationships, thereby jeopardizing our national security.
These trials, when they finally take place, will be scrutinized around the globe. Unless the victims' families, the American public and the entire world can be convinced that we are trying and convicting the people who are truly responsible for the 9/11 crimes, these trials will be seen as a miserable failure, dimming our prospects of improved international relationships, and making us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks in the future.
On behalf of ourselves, our husbands, and our families, we support the American Civil Liberties Union in its pursuit of justice and insistence on due process. The only outcome worth pursuing is the truth, and the only way get there is by fair trials that uphold the Constitution.
Bishop Peter Selby - President of the National Council for Independent Monitoring Boards for Prisons and Immigration Removal Centres.
Formerly the Bishop of Worcester, England.
As someone who received further education in the USA, and was deeply moved by the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, I continue to be shocked every time I think about Guantánamo and the undermining of those constitutional values. All held there, if there are cases for them to answer, should be subject to due process and otherwise released. Americans should be aware of the lasting damage Guantánamo has done to their reputation.
Lawrence Wilkerson - Retired Army Colonel and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell
I support the ACLU's and NACDL's efforts to ensure that detainees at Guantanamo Bay who are brought before the military commission are provided with competent legal representation. It is stunning that one has to make such a statement of support in America. Due process should be a given in the country that just a few short years ago the world viewed as the paragon of the rule of law. Perhaps if we can take this fundamental step toward restoring the rule of law, we may begin the long road back to respectability.
Robin S. Theurkauf, Ph. D - Professor of International Relations at Yale University
As a woman who lost her husband on 9/11 I fear that we the victims will be unable to truly have justice because the military commission process is flawed. I am also a professor of International Relations at Yale University. There is compelling evidence that anything that inflames anti-American sentiment makes us less secure. As a matter of national security then we should close the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Peaceful Tomorrows is an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace.
The members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows stand behind the American Civil Liberties Union in their decision to assemble defense teams to be available to assist in the representation of some of the Guantanamo detainees that the U.S. government is preparing to prosecute.
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, founded in 2002, is an organization of individuals who all lost family members on 9/11. For six years we have advocated for nonviolent and legal responses to the terrorist attacks that claimed our loved ones' lives. By developing and advocating nonviolent actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism.
We have a tremendous stake in seeing that justice is served in the prosecution of 9/11 suspects. It is our heart-breaking obligation to see those responsible for the deaths of our loved ones brought to justice. However, in our view, justice will not be served by a legal process that has been compromised by political interference and stripped of the minimum of defendants' rights and protections that define a fair trial.
Adding to the pain of our loss is the painful awareness that our nation is betraying its own values — and the values of so many who died on 9/11. If we wish to see justice and peace in the world, we, as individuals and as a nation, must embody the principles of due process of law. Terrorism has taken our loved-ones' bodies. We must not allow fear or a desire for revenge to take our souls.
We believe that the military tribunal commission process does not adhere to the principles of due process of law, the standard of justice for our nation. We find no comfort in confessions obtained by coercive techniques, nor in any of the other egregious violations of the Constitution and international law, and assaults against civil liberties by our government that have occurred during the six year period that the accused have been imprisoned. We believe that justice is not served in a trial that admits evidence obtained by torture; that justice cannot be served in a system that abandons due process; and that no truth can be discovered in a prosecution based on secrecy.
We urge all Americans to join with us in supporting the American Civil Liberties Union in their efforts to assure fair trials for all people, regardless of the charges they face. It is the only way to preserve our moral integrity as a nation.