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Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Trial Begins at Guantanamo Bay

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We recall the never ending arguments as to how the suspected terrorists confined in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be tried. The Obama administration has consistently sought to try these and similar cases in the United States, in civil courts, where rules of evidence and testimony are stronger, which, many believe, result in more fair and just verdicts. Hearsay evidence is allowed in military tribunals; the tribunals are ordinarily used in cases where time is of the essence, as in battlefield situations. These trials, military tribunals, have begun.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly the mastermind of the never to be forgotten September 11, 2001 attacks and four other suspected terrorists were brought into a Guantanamo Bay Naval base courtroom for arraignment. It might have occurred to planners that prisoners who have been subject to cruel abuse night and day for several years would find some difficulty in adjusting to the decorum of a courtroom.

The prisoners had arrived at a decision to participate only passively in the preliminary motions. An indication of their mindset came when they were asked to place headphones on their ears so they could listen in their native language. The defendants found the placement of headphones difficult or impossible. They believed the phones to be torture devices. The prisoners passively ignored the judge, praying into their beards, or making frightened outbursts. They hoped to bring the details of their torture to the attention of whomever might listen. They have no way of knowing if the world is aware of their torment.

A defense attorney used the word “torture” while explaining to the court the seemingly odd acceptance of the headphones.  Although torture is a primary issue in this case, and torture is at the heart of what the defendants are hoping to bring to the light of day, the word torture itself has been banned from the proceedings. The rationale for the banning is that it refers to “classified information.” The physical response to the use of the word in court is to disallow those listening to the proceeding to hear it. The court proceedings are on a 40 second delay, and the media, as well as interested persons, are behind a soundproof glass. Thus, when the word torture is spoken, the listeners only hear static.

David Nevin is the attorney for Sheikh Mohammed. He has been provided with a long list of subjects banned from the proceedings and presumably from the coming trial. He was told, he relates, “You can’t talk about it [torture], you can’t discuss it… It is not going to happen!”

Steps have already been taken in the conduct of this military tribunal to prevent any escape from further punishment by the defendants as a result of their being waterboarded or otherwise tortured. In the somewhat obfuscational words of Brigadier General Mark martins, the chief prosecutor of the commissions, “The remedy for torture or cruel treatment, things that will make you ashamed that they were done, that are deplorable and disappointing, The remedy is not to dismiss all charges, It is harder than that. It doesn’t pass the common sense test. That everything is polluted and tainted by an instance of torture? That means everyone goes free because someone else, who may have been acting independently,out of control, or did something wrong? That’s not Justice. It is harder than that” General Martins will also be the head of the team in the prosecution in the September 11 case.

Many would agree that if torture is not the issue in these cases, it must be an issue of perhaps even more prominence, in some other venue. Prior to the revelations of WikiLeaks, the global public was told that cruel and inhumane punishment at Guantanamo Bay, and at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq was done under strict control to prevent future attacks on America. But WikiLeaks provided the information that in a vast number of instances, torture was used to produce evidence against suspects already in custody.

About John Lake

John Lake the tireless crusader of the liberal blog stymies us with his political and breaking news views. In addition he makes continuing contributions to the wide world of empirical science. And finally, his strange takes on life in the pursuit of humor are a treat and a delight.
  • Pumpkin Eater

    And your point is?

  • Dr Dreadful

    The trial is clearly a sham and a mockery under any set of judicial standards, but we all knew that anyway.

    Point of order: I believe the photo in the article is not of a Guantanamo internee, as stated, but of one of the victims at Abu Ghraib.

  • John Lake

    It’s an old photo from my files. You may be right.

  • Clavos

    Now that you mention it, Doc, it is from Abu Ghraib.

  • STM

    I hate what these aresholes have done and they need to pay for it.

    But due process is the cornerstone of anglo-American jurisprudence. Torture is not.

    To deny due process is to do what bad kings of England did to their subjects 1000 years ago, pre magna carta.

    I find it bizarre that Americans are fixated with constitutional rights (one ofn which mentions due process) and the US bangs on about this stuff in any other situation but somehow doesn’t have the wherewithal to try people it really considers common criminals and mass murderers within the US criminal justice system.

    Whether these people deserve those protections or not is irrelevant; they exist for a reason. That is, that in a civil society everyone is to be treated equally under the law, one way or the other, in a transparent and open way according to the standards dictated by the rule of law that guarantees our freedoms ( = due process).

    To deny due process and to hide the truth by denying the public to hear ALL evidence, not just the state’s evidence but that of the defendants, including what was done in terms of waterboarding etc, is one further nail in the coffin of the kind of liberal democracy America so treasures.

    Whether these people were enemy combatants or not and thus don’t deserve the protections offered to all by a system of jurisprudence, English natural justice and rule of law over 1000 years in the making is a red herring … and a step back to the kind of behaviour the magna carta and the due process statute made by King Edward III as an amendment to the magna carta in 1354 sought to stop.

    I find it odd that the US is comfortable throwing that history out, especially when it is so keen to criticise others in regard to their abuses of human rights. Denial of due process, of course, being a denial of natural justice AND constititional law all over the English-speaking world. That is something championed especially by the US over the past 200 years.

    The real problem, of course, is that it puts us on the kind of slippery slope that makes it hard to hold the high moral ground.

    Isn’t the fact that our societies are based on rule of law what makes us so different from people like Khaled Sheik Mohammed and his rotten, mass murdering cohorts?

    Or is that just something to which we pay nothing but lip service?

    It’s a sham, and should be considered as such.

  • Igor

    It’s a shame that the Administration chose to try these guys in a military tribunal instead of a criminal court. Criminal courts have a much better terrorist conviction rate than tribunals and they are accustomed to handling disruptive defendants.

    They’ve increased the chance of losing the case and looking bad in the process.


  • Dr Dreadful

    It’s unlikely that the government will lose the case against KSM because the “tribunal” has been set up in such a way that it’s next to impossible for his lawyers to mount an effective defense. It would therefore take some extraordinary ineptitude on the part of the military to…

    …never mind.

    Of course the additional layer of shammery is the reinvention of the term “enemy combatant”, purely so that the US government could have it both ways. If the alleged terrorists were handled as common criminals (which is what they are) they would have had to have been tried under the criminal justice system. If they’d been handled as soldiers (which is what they think they are) they’d have been protected by the Geneva Convention and couldn’t have been tried at all.

    In either case they would have had (gasp! shock!! horror!!!) rights – which, as we all know if we’ve been paying attention while watching our favorite cops ‘n’ robbers movies, are only for the good guys.

  • Cannonshop

    #7 Except, Doc, that the revision to Geneva that protected Mercenaries and non-uniformed combatants was never ratified by the U.S. Congress, in spite of its’ passage in the U.N. in the seventies.

    It’s not a revivification of the term-enemy combatants who do not comply with Geneva’s requirement of uniforms are, by definition, under the version ratified by the United States, without rights.

    i.e. not protected under Geneva, the actual technical term is “Spy” and the prescribed treatment under the version of Geneva ratified by the United States, is execution without bothering with trials, tribunals, and the like.
    Many European countries passed protections for non-uniformed combatants, ‘freedom fighters’ and the like, but not the United States. The modification was sponsored by the Soviet Union at a time when they were sponsoring a LOT Of these dirtbags…

  • Igor

    Hey, hey Cannon, take it easy on dirtbag sponsors. After all, we’ve sponsored a bunch of dirtbags, too. Like “Iran-Contra” which, in one brilliant masterstroke sponsored Contra dirtbags and giving weapons to our hated enemies in Iran and enriched arms sellers.

  • Dr Dreadful

    The modification was sponsored by the Soviet Union at a time when they were sponsoring a LOT Of these dirtbags…

    Cannon, that makes the US look even worse. At least the Soviets had the decency to want to give their dirtbags a bit of backup.

  • Igor

    It sure looks like the US administration is trying to bully a conviction out of the Military courts, and any win will be discounted by the public because of that bullying.

    Our civil courts know better how to handle the unruly defendants and witnesses than do the military courts. Military courts are accustomed to soldiers, who are trained in obedience and submission, so they are orderly in court.

    The administration has put the conviction at risk in military courts. At least they’ve put a just conviction at risk. I suppose we may safely conclude that these guys will be whisked away to solitary confinement after the trial.