Pentagon Scraps Guantanamo Trial Rule Slammed by Defense

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Pentagon has scrapped a rule that required US military judges overseeing tribunals at Guantanamo Bay to stay permanently at the American base in Cuba, officials said Friday.

The rule, imposed last month, was meant to speed up the pace of the trials for Guantanamo inmates facing terror charges.

But defense lawyers for five inmates accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks argued the order was evidence of government interference in their cases. The presiding military judge, James Pohl, also voiced concerns about the appearance of government meddling and suspended all pre-trial hearings for the accused 9/11 plotters on Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work rescinded the rule in a memo on Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

Work was aware that "there was perhaps an inappropriate perception formed by that decision" and canceled the change to safeguard the independence of the military commissions, Kirby said.

"Any such regulation must preserve the independence of the military commission judiciary in both fact and appearance," Work wrote in the memo, which was released Friday.

Pre-trial hearings of the alleged co-conspirators of the 9/11 attacks faced new delays in February after two of the five defendants identified a court interpreter as having worked in one of the United States' notorious CIA prisons where they had been interrogated and tortured.

The defense claims to have documented numerous cases of the government meddling in the legal process, possibly violating the defendants' rights to a fair trial.

Microphones have been concealed in smoke detectors, and an FBI agent has infiltrated defense teams, the lawyers claimed.

The military commissions are special courts set up in 2001 to try some Guantanamo detainees on terror charges.

The tribunals have been sharply criticized by human rights groups as lacking the legal protections of regular courts and have produced only a handful of convictions so far. Human rights groups have also condemned Guantanamo as a "legal black hole," where inmates languish for years without being tried in court.

The legal process for the commissions may not operate with "the speed or maybe even the efficacy that some would like to see it done," Kirby said. But the Pentagon believes the commissions provide fair, open and transparent trials that can hold suspects to account, he said.

At least 122 detainees remain in Guantanamo. Fifty-four of those, including 47 Yemenis, have been approved for resettlement, while the rest are considered “too dangerous” to release.

The pace of transfers from the US-run detention center at Guantanamo has picked up in recent months as US President Barack Obama attempts to fulfill a promise he made nearly six years ago when he took office to shut the prison, despite opposition from some lawmakers.

Obama's envoy overseeing the release of Guantanamo inmates, Cliff Sloan, resigned in December after reportedly becoming frustrated at how long it took the Pentagon to approve transfers of detainees.

The US has been under scrutiny for years over the unethical treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, particularly for its interrogation methods.

Prisoners have reported a wide range of extreme human rights abuses from prison authorities, including brutal physical assault with torture tools, being kept in isolation for years at a time, and sleep and sensory deprivation.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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