ABA Leader Urges Fair Trial Procedures for Guantanamo Detainees
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 28, 2008 – Saying that the capital trials of six Guantanamo detainees should comply with well-established guidelines for death penalty cases, American Bar Association President William H. Neukom has offered, in a letter to President Bush, to “engage the most able legal minds to ensure that these cases comport with the rule of law, so precious to our democracy.”
Neukom’s letter, delivered Wednesday to administration officials, also expressed concern that the military commission system at Guantanamo does not adhere to established principles of due process fundamental to the nation’s concept of justice.
“There can be no argument that detainees who plotted terrorist attacks against our country and killed thousands of innocent Americans should be brought to justice and be held fully accountable for their horrific crimes,” Neukom wrote. “At the same time, no matter how outrageous the conduct, we must ensure that detainees receive fair trials that meet the highest standards of due process and justice.”
The military tribunal system has been a source of controversy since the United States began capturing alleged enemy combatants around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Neukom said that the ABA’s concerns about a wide range of due process issues “have been heightened” by a recent Defense Department announcement that it plans to seek the death penalty against six detainees.
Recognizing the unique demands upon counsel in death penalty cases, the ABA in 1989 promulgated Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. Neukom urged that adequate resources be provided to detainees’ defense lawyers, and he offered to assist the federal government in meeting the ABA guidelines.
The letter also reiterated ABA concerns about the military commission process devised to try detainees.
Since 2002, the ABA has urged that military tribunals be governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that they provide the rights afforded in courts-martial proceedings, and under U.S. treaty obligations.
The letter noted that detainees cannot challenge their detention by habeas corpus. It also expressed concern about detainees’ access to legal counsel, and said the commissions could allow convictions based on hearsay and evidence obtained through coercion.
The ABA letter is available at: http://www.abanet.org/poladv/letters/antiterror/2008feb27_detainees_l.pdf
With more than 413,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.