The Response and Military Tribunals

We’ve had a couple recent forums on human rights over the past week and a half that I went to. On February 17 Amnesty International showed the Oscar-nominated short documentary The Response, with a panel discussion on military commissions. Then on February 23, Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon, who tried to bring former Argentine dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice spoke at the UW Law School.

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Sara Schmidt, our field organizer from the San Francisco office, introduced the panel, who spoke briefly before the film, which we watched next.

The Response is based on transcripts from actual military tribunals, and highlights a procedure that is administrative (they can only rule if the prisoner has been properly categorized, not on whether he or she should be held), and allows for evidence the prisoner isn’t allowed to know the details of nor the source of to refute.

As Amnesty International notes, about the the commission system formed under the Military Commissions Act:

Notably, it strips the right to a speedy trial, permits the use of evidence obtained through compulsory self-incrimination, and restricts defense access to materials used to prosecute the defendant. There is no right to confront accusers, no exclusion of evidence based on the failure to obtain a warrant, and hearsay evidence is permissible.

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Joseph McMillan & Jamie Mayerfeld

Our panel included Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jamie Mayerfeld, Associate Professor of Political Science at UW; Joseph McMillan Legal Defense for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s personal driver; and Tom Parker, Policy Director: Terrorism, Counterterrorism & Human Rights, Amnesty International.

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Arsalan Bukhari & Tom Parker

We talked about how both the US in other instances, and other countries like Britain have dealt with terrorism with regular courts (and without torture).  Ironically, the US courts are a far more effective way of prosecuting terrorism. According to the New Security Action website, “Only 3 detainees at Guantanamo have been convicted of any crime through the military commissions system,” while “(t)he Federal court system has convicted 195 terrorists since 2001.”

Arsalan also brought up the issue of profiling Muslims since September 11, and even before, like, ironically, after the Oklahoma City bombing, before it came out that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were responsible. Tom brought up a number of cases of recent right wing terror attacks and attempts that most of us and the general public has never heard of.

Ironically, again, the next day a right wing anti-tax fanatic flew a plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas. I don’t see any difference. There are even people who see the man as a hero. Again, not much different from al Quaida or any other terrorist. Should we start rounding up clean cut white guys who are angry with the government, based on innuendo from their neighbors or co-workers who they won’t be able to confront, and hold them indefinitely because of what they might do? Or is that un-American?

We also talked about what has been a major disappointment for me, that President Obama has back tracked on Guantanamo and issues like military commissions and indefinite detention. One of the things that impressed me about Obama during the primary was that he had been a constitutional law professor who understood the importance of habeas corpus and other legal issues relevant to Guantanamo and the “war on terror.” I realize he’s getting a lot of pressure from the right, but still thought he would stand his ground because it is so important.

We collected postcards to send to President Obama at The Response screening, and you can take action online at:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/counter-terror-with-justice/fair-trials/page.do?id=1041195

We had co-sponsorship by and shared tabling with a number of good groups, including CAIR, the WA State Religious Campaign Against Torture, Veterans for Peace and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The conversation continued out to the reception in the lobby another hour, making it difficult for the young man sent to clean up and put our tables and chairs away.

Coming next (and hopefully soon), Judge Garzon’s visit.

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