Washington, DC (August 6, 2008) – In light of today’s verdict in the case of United States v. Salim Ahmed Hamdan, President John Wesley Hall of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers offered the following observations:
“The Pentagon must be very proud of itself today. It was able to obtain a conviction of arguably the least-culpable among the 80 detainees it intends to prosecute as war criminals. It convicted a truck driver of being guilty of driving a truck.”
Hall is a noted criminal defense lawyer and legal ethics expert who defended a war crime prosecution in Sierra Leone. He is also on the List of Counsel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
“The military commission system does not reflect ‘the best traditions of the American legal system,’ as the administration has maintained. Nor can it be said that the split verdict in any way shows that the system ‘works,’” Hall cautioned. “What the not guilty verdict does show is that the six U.S. military officers who served as jurors followed both their consciences and their common sense – a low-level Yemeni driver in Afghanistan simply does not fit the definition of a war criminal. Salim Ahmed Hamdan should not be a fall guy for Osama bin Laden.
“But the guilty verdict shows that the military commission system is rigged to convict, as NACDL has maintained. When driving and maintaining vehicles becomes the basis for a war crime conviction, every mechanic in the motor pool, every camp cook, even a medic who could be a conscientious objector, is subject to prosecution. In reality, the Pentagon should be embarrassed for the massive waste of resources this six-year prosecution has squandered. Will we try every captured person?
“But worst of all, even if Hamdan’s conviction is overturned on appeal, it is likely he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. The whole point of this trial was to justify the life sentence he received long ago when the president declared him an unlawful enemy combatant.
“Over 200 years ago, patriotic Americans rejected incommunicado detentions without counsel, physical and mental abuse, forced confessions, secret evidence, secret witnesses and hearsay when they ratified the Bill of Rights. I fear that the world will perceive us as having become the oppressor we rebelled against in 1776.”
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.