Washington, DC (January 14, 2009) – “It is a sad fact, ignored or overlooked by many, that most of the [Guantanamo] detainees will never be prosecuted for any crime,” John Wesley Hall, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, writes in this month’s issue of the association’s magazine. “We jailed those innocent people for their purported ‘information.’” Hall argues that the camps ought to be, and can be, emptied immediately and the prisoners sent home to their families “with our deepest apologies.”
“The time is long past for calling these persons ‘detainees.’ They’re prisoners, many of whom the government now admits have committed no crime, erroneously detained and imprisoned because no one had the guts to admit a mistake,” Hall said.
President-Elect Barack Obama has said he will close the camps at Guantanamo, but on ABC’s “This Week” Jan. 11 added, “it’s going to take some time.” Hall’s article, available on NACDL’s Web site, disputes the arguments that existing federal law and procedures are ill-equipped to handle Guantanamo cases. Most detainees could be repatriated to their own countries as quickly as travel arrangements could be made.
According to Hall, no special courts or military commissions are necessary. The federal court system has proven itself capable of dealing with those who are or can be charged with terrorism crimes against the United States or the Law of Nations. Persons accused of unlawful combat on the battlefield or war crimes should be tried in military courts with the protections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.
Regarding those the present administration’s claim that some prisoners, although they have committed no crime, are too dangerous to release to their home countries, the article notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld temporary confinement of individuals deemed dangerous – but only after a judge or jury, weighing competent evidence, has found that the person poses a clear and convincing danger to himself or others.
There is a special class of prisoner, however, that cannot be sent to their homelands in the foreseeable future because of the risk that they would be imprisoned, tortured or even executed for political or religious reasons. Hall argues that we must face the legal and moral consequences of imprisoning innocent persons and provide them with whatever assistance they need.
The full article can be viewed online or downloaded at: http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/mediasources/20090113a/$FILE/column.pdf.
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