Allegations Surface That Guantanamo Trials Were Fixed
This is an allegation that could prove to be an ongoing problem for the United States:
Leaked emails from two former prosecutors claim the military commissions set up to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay are rigged, fraudulent, and thin on evidence against the accused.
Two emails, which have been obtained by the ABC, were sent to supervisors in the Office of Military Commissions in March of last year – three months before Australian detainee David Hicks was charged and five months before his trial began.
A reader emails us that this story alleging U.S. kangaroo courts is all over the front pages in Australia. Of course, it’s impossible to tell from a news story the accuracy of the allegations. We have the story…which contains excerpts from emails:
The first email is from prosecutor Major Robert Preston to his supervisor.
Maj Preston writes that the process is perpetrating a fraud on the American people, and that the cases being pursued are marginal.
“I consider the insistence on pressing ahead with cases that would be marginal even if properly prepared to be a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people,” Maj Preston wrote.
“Surely they don’t expect that this fairly half-arsed effort is all that we have been able to put together after all this time.”
Maj Preston says he cannot continue to work on a process he considers morally, ethically and professionally intolerable.
“I lie awake worrying about this every night,” he wrote.
“I find it almost impossible to focus on my part of mission.
“After all, writing a motion saying that the process will be full and fair when you don’t really believe it is kind of hard, particularly when you want to call yourself an officer and lawyer.”
Maj Preston was transferred out of the Office of Military Commissions less than a month later.
What makes this more than just “an allegation” is that there is a second email — and two sources making similar allegations usually strengthens a story’s veracity, in the eyes of editors:
The second email is written by another prosecutor, Captain John Carr, who also ended up leaving the department.
Capt Carr says the commissions appear to be rigged.
“When I volunteered to assist with this process and was assigned to this office, I expected there would at least be a minimal effort to establish a fair process and diligently prepare cases against significant accused,” he wrote.
“Instead, I find a half-hearted and disorganised effort by a skeleton group of relatively inexperienced attorneys to prosecute fairly low-level accused in a process that appears to be rigged.”
Capt Carr says that the prosecutors have been told by the chief prosecutor that the panel sitting in judgment on the cases would be handpicked to ensure convictions.
“You have repeatedly said to the office that the military panel will be handpicked and will not acquit these detainees and that we only needed to worry about building a record for the review panel,” he said.
The ABC Australia story contains a vigorous denial from Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway of the Air Force, an advisor to the office running the trials. He says the allegations were investigated, there was no wrong doing and that some of the problem stemmed from “miscommunication.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times puts these allegations into a broader context, noting that they came amid a larger military debate:
As the Pentagon was making its final preparations to begin war crimes trials against four detainees at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, two senior prosecutors complained in confidential messages last year that the trial system had been secretly arranged to improve the chance of conviction and to deprive defendants of material that could prove their innocence.
The electronic messages, obtained by The New York Times, reveal a bitter dispute within the military legal community over the fairness of the system at a time when the Bush administration and the Pentagon were eager to have the military commissions, the first for the United States since the aftermath of World War II, be seen as just at home and abroad.
During the same time period, military defense lawyers were publicly criticizing the system, but senior officials dismissed their complaints and said they were contrived as part of the efforts to help their clients.
The defense lawyers’ complaints and those of outside groups like the American Bar Association were, it is now clear, simultaneously being echoed in confidential messages by the two high-ranking prosecutors whose cases would, if anything, benefit from any slanting of the process.
So there are various strands to here. But you can safely say this:
Even if untrue, these allegations will still be used for propaganda purposes — particularly in the Arab world — and will hurt the U.S. image abroad. If untrue, they need more than a pro forma denial.
And if more allegations such as these surface, they would further strengthen these allegations — and mean that there has been damage inflicted on United States’ traditions as profound as from a terrorist attack.