The other shoe has finally dropped. Six detainees held at Guantanamo Bay apparently will soon be going on “trial” for their lives. At least one of the six was previously subjected to torture by US personnel.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is charging six detainees at Guantanamo Bay with murder and war crimes in connection with the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America, and will seek the death penalty.
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The men would be tried in the military tribunal system that was set up by the administration shortly after the start of the counterterror war and has been widely criticized for it rules on legal representation for suspects, hearings behind closed doors and past allegations of inmate abuse at Guantanamo.
Original rules allowed the military to exclude the defendant from his own trial, permitted statements made under torture, and forbade appeal to an independent court; but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the system in 2006 and a revised plan set up after Congress enacted a new law has included some additional rights.
Defence lawyers still criticize the system for it’s secrecy.
The decision to seek the death penalty also is likely to draw criticism from within the international community. A number of countries, including U.S. allies, have said they would object to the use of capital punishment for their nationals held at Guantanamo.
Officials plan to hold the trial in a specially constructed court at Guantanamo that will allow lawyers, journalists and some others to be present, but leave relatives of Sept. 11 victims and others to watch the trial through closed-circuit broadcasts.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was among 15 so-called “high-value detainees” who were held at length by the CIA in secret overseas prisons — some subject to what critics call torture — before being handed over to the military in 2006.
To say that the timing of these prosecutions is politically convenient is rather like saying that Simon Cowell can at times be a bit harsh: it couldn’t be more obvious what’s happening. But then, when has anything, on any subject, emanating from this White House not been orchestrated primarily for political advantage?
And what better way to help along the GOP’s politics of fear than a show trial timed to correspond to the upcoming presidential election? Who knows? If they really rush, maybe they can arrange to have the executions carried out on stage at the Republican National Convention.
They could even have John McCain himself serve on the firing squad — proof positive that he has what it takes to fight terrorism. They might also consider letting Dick Cheney join in, although the Secret Service probably wouldn’t allow it because of the risk he’d accidentally shoot McCain instead.
If this were a real trial — you know, one with real due process and an independent jury — there would be an element of risk present, given the possibility such a jury might not buy into every part of the government’s case. Happily, in a kangaroo court this risk is largely exiled. Are these guys good, or what?
There’s an even darker side to this matter of timing, of course, which is that by bringing formal charges now, in the heat of an election, the administration will be able to largely mute political criticism of the process. Who wants to face the voters after “coming to the defense” of people allegedly involved in killing 3,000 Americans?
What’s tragic, of course, is what this process will do to the United States’ already tattered image around the world. Show trials may play well here politically, but they won’t play well elsewhere.
You would think we would have come to realize by now how much that matters.