In spite of a court ruling that halted the military
trial of a Guantanamo detainee last week, the military is continuing to conduct
another kind of controversial hearing for prisoners held at the U.S. base in
On Monday, a prisoner accused of delivering money to the Taliban stood before
a Combat Status Review Tribunal made up of military judges.
The Review Tribunals are not criminal trials. Instead, the express purpose
of the Review Tribunals is to allow each detainee to try to persuade the military
that he is not an "enemy combatant." The tribunals are the Bush administration's
answer to a summer Supreme Court decision that the Guantanamo detainees must
be given the chance to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.
Many human and civil rights groups that have been advocating for the legal
rights of the detainees accuse the Bush administration of creating the Review
Tribunals in order to prevent the detainees from gaining access to civilian
courts, where the standards of evidence and access to legal representation are
Back in early August, when the Review Tribunals began, Jeff Fogel, legal director
at Center for Constitutional Rights, slammed the process in a press statement.
His organization has been at the forefront of the legal battle to provide basic
rights to the detainees held at Guantanamo
"The so-called 'Personal Representatives' assigned to [the detainees]
have no legal background and are not advocates: they are required to pass on
any information gleaned from a detainee during their conversations," said
Fogel, referring to the military officers appointed to assist the prisoners
in navigating the Review process. "These tribunals are a sham," he
continued. "The detainees … have no right to meaningfully contest
any classified evidence against them, and no meaningful way to call any witnesses
in their favor."
Last Monday a federal judge ruled that the military trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan
must be halted. Hamdan, who had already gone through a Combatant Status Review
Tribunal, was in the early stages of a criminal trial in front of a panel of
military judges. Hamdan's lawyers successfully argued to the federal judge that
the military tribunal under which their client was being tried violated international
The crux of their case was that under the Geneva Conventions, Hamdan should
be considered a "prisoner of war," not an "enemy combatant,"
as the government had labeled him in order to keep him out of the jurisdiction
of the Conventions. U.S. District Judge James Robertson agreed with Hamdan's
lawyers, writing, "Hamdan has asserted his entitlement to POW status, and
the Army's regulations provide that whenever a detainee makes such a claim his
status is 'in doubt.'"
Robertson further wrote that "there is nothing in this record to suggest
that a competent tribunal has determined that Hamdan is not a prisoner of war
under the Geneva Conventions." Noting that the Combatant Status Review
Tribunals were "not established to address detainees' status under the
Geneva Conventions," Robertson ordered that a "competent tribunal"
must be convened to determine the matter and that unless such a commission decides
Hamdan is not a prisoner of war, he must be afforded all relevant rights of
a person protected by the Conventions.
Though last week's ruling applied only to Hamdan, many analysts suggest that
the decision, which is being appealed by the government, carried implications
for the entire legal structure set up by the Bush administration to try the
detainees held at Guantanamo
Thus far, however, it does not appear to have affected the ongoing Combat Status
In related news, family members and supporters of four British citizens being
held at Guantanamo held a Sunday protest to pressure Tony Blair's administration
into securing the prisoners' release from the prison camp.
Amir Karim, a relative of one of the detained men, was quoted by the Scotsman
as saying, "The entire legal process is a farce, and the lawyers have come
to the end of the road in using all legal channels."
Karim added, "We simply ask for a fair trial in open court in Britain
– is that too much to ask?"