Today President Obama put out a statement stressing that military tribunals are going to be the method of trial for some GITMO detainees. However, he announced that his administration is reforming the process to give detainees more legal rights, and to make sure that the prosecutions are legitimate.
Obama first pointed out that the Bush administration’s show trial system did not work,” I objected strongly to the Military Commissions Act that was drafted by the Bush Administration and passed by Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice against those detainees that we were holding at the time. Indeed, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay had only succeeded in prosecuting three suspected terrorists in more than seven years.”
He then announced five rule changes for the tribunals, “First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.”
The president said that the reforms will add legitimacy to the tribunals, “These reforms will begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law. In addition, we will work with the Congress on additional reforms that will permit commissions to prosecute terrorists effectively and be an avenue, along with federal prosecutions in Article III courts, for administering justice. This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) praised the decision, “I support the Administration’s announcement that it intends to move forward with the trial of Guantanamo detainees by military commission. I have long stated my belief that military commissions should provide the chief venue for trying war crimes violations by Guantanamo detainees, and I am pleased that President Obama has now adopted this view.”
The Bush administration’s military tribunals were an embarrassment to the United States. President Obama’s reforms give the detainees basic legal rights. For those who believe that since the detainees aren’t American, they should have no rights, I would argue that this is the same logic that prevails in nations such as Iran and North Korea. If the U.S. is going be successful in dealing with terrorism, it has to act in a way that promotes American values.
If these detainees are guilty, the U.S. government should have to prove their guilt, and the accused should be allowed to present a full defense. These are the kinds of values that the U.S. is trying to promote in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I don’t think it is too much to ask for a system that practices what we preach. Little by little, Obama is dismantling the hypocrisy of the Bush years.