Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Friday, June 22, 2007

  Guantanamo: A clue today for the clueless

As Republicans rushed forward to defend Guantanamo and decry those who would close it, a quieter but more authoritative voice also spoke up. For the first time, we heard directly from a military lawyer about the nature of the tribunals he witnessed at the gulag. He is Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (Army Reserve). What he has to say about the integrity of the proceedings, in an affidavit filed in federal court today, is devastating.

Abraham describes exactly what many of us have surmised from such documents and statistics as are available for the Combat Status Review Tribunals, and from the testimony of prisoners and the statements of their lawyers. He describes a kangaroo court.

The system is so stacked against due process that Lt. Col. Abraham, a military lawyer, submitted an affidavit on behalf of one prisoner who has appealed the outcome of his CSRT to federal court. It's worth emphasizing that Abraham is the first eyewitness to speak publicly about the unfairness of the tribunals, in which 93% of prisoners were declared to be "enemy combatants".

From the Associated Press:

An Army officer with a key role in the U.S. military hearings at Guantanamo Bay says they relied on vague and incomplete intelligence and were pressured to declare detainees "enemy combatants," often without any specific evidence...

Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a 26-year veteran of military intelligence who is an Army reserve officer and a California lawyer, said military prosecutors were provided with only "generic" material that didn't hold up to the most basic legal challenges.

Despite repeated requests, intelligence agencies arbitrarily refused to provide specific information that could have helped either side in the tribunals, according to Abraham, who said he served as a main liaison between the Combat Status Review Tribunals and those intelligence agencies.

"What were purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence," Abraham said in the affidavit, filed in a Washington appeals court on behalf of a Kuwaiti detainee, Fawzi al-Odah, who is challenging his classification as an "enemy combatant."

A report in the WaPo adds:

[He] said the military placed too much weight on unsubstantiated statements by intelligence agencies in deciding that the detainees were enemy combatants, according to his affidavit....

Abraham, who helped review government intelligence about detainees in 2004 and 2005 and served on a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, is the first person who played such a role to publicly challenge the fairness of the reviews. He said in an interview yesterday that he felt compelled to disclose his misgivings after reading public claims about the fairness of the process made by Rear Adm. James M. McGarrah, who oversaw it.

The Pentagon argues that Abraham has too little experience with CSRTs, and never filed any complaints while he was posted at Guantanamo. But Col. Abraham demurs.

Abraham said that, to the contrary, he repeatedly raised his concerns during his six-month stint in the office, including direct appeals to McGarrah. He said the evidence presented to the tribunals lacked specificity, and that exculpatory information about the detainees was unavailable and possibly withheld. He said that government agencies sometimes claimed that detainees were "enemy fighters" or "warriors" after saying that they were on a jihad or ascertaining their presence in a specific location.

Abraham also said in the interview that legal standards for the unusual tribunals were nearly nonexistent. He equated the government hearsay presented about detainees with "a game of telephone."

Abraham also states that it was "well known" that any judges who failed to find against a prisoner would have to justify themselves to McGarrah.

He said he and two fellow panel members were closely questioned by McGarrah and his deputy after they decided that there was not enough evidence to conclude that a prisoner was an enemy fighter, and were then ordered to hold an expanded hearing to reconsider their conclusion.

The AP also interviewed Abraham by phone for its report:

Abraham said he first raised his concerns when he was on active duty with the Defense Department agency in charge of the tribunal process from September 2004 to March 2005 and felt the issues were not adequately addressed. He said he decided his only recourse was to submit the affidavit.

"I pointed out nothing less than facts, facts that can and should be fixed," he told The Associated Press

The importance of this affidavit?

"It wouldn't be quite right to say this is the most important piece of evidence that has come out of the CSRT process, because this is the only piece of evidence ever to come out of the CSRT process," [al-Odah's lawyer Matthew] MacLean said. "It's our only view into the CSRT."

But why ruin his career in the military by breaking the wall of silence?

"I take very seriously my responsibility, my duties as a citizen," [Col. Abraham] said.

* *

Here is what a very different sort of man had to say today about Gitmo, one who has gone on record as favoring torture:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Friday it would be a mistake to close the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a move under consideration now by the Bush administration.

Romney said captives housed at the facility need to stay in Cuba -- far from the U.S. court system.

"I believe that Guantánamo plays an important role in protecting our nation from violent, heinous terrorists," he said. "Guantánamo is a symbol of our resolve."...

Romney said suspected terrorists need to be kept at Guantánamo so they do not get safe harbor in the U.S. legal system. Terrorists, he said, should not get such constitutional rights.

There's no danger of Gitmo prisoners being according due-process rights under a Republican president. Fortunately, there's little danger either that Mitt will be elected president.

* *

Not to be outdone, the White House continued its efforts to make the worst of rumors that it was seriously considering whether to shut down Gitmo (rumors which I commented on yesterday).

[WH spokesman Dana] Perino made clear that Bush is determined to see Guantanamo Bay shut down.

"America does not have any intention of being the world's jailer," she said, noting that the United States has announced plans to release about 80 of the some 375 detainees remaining in Guantanamo and hopes to transfer several dozen Afghans back to Afghanistan in the near future.

Washington is helping the Afghan government build a high-security wing at Pul-e-Charki prison complex just outside Kabul. The wing has 330 cells and can hold up to 660 people, including 65 Afghans held at Guantanamo Bay, according to Afghan officials.

But Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry, said none of those held at Guantanamo had been transferred to Afghanistan so far despite statements by U.S. officials that they would be sent back by the end of April 2007.

The State Department was pitching in as well to draw further opprobrium upon the U.S.:

State Department legal adviser John Bellinger told members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission meeting on Capitol Hill that the government has been working with dozens of countries to try to find places to transfer some of the detainees. He said he's traveled around the globe, explaining and defending the detention facility to foreign governments critical of its existence.

"We fully and acutely realize Guantanamo has become a lightning rod for criticism around the world," Bellinger said, defending the camps as housing suspected terrorists ''who need to be detained somewhere.

Oh, it's not just Guantanamo that has become a lightning rod for criticism, not by a long shot.

When Bellinger declared universal agreement that Guantanamo captives need to be detained, some protesters hissed, "Lies."

crossposted from Unbossed

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