Gonzales insists terror suspects face fair trials under Military Commissions Act

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile] insisted Wednesday that the newly-signed [JURIST report] Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text; S 3930 summary] that has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups [JURIST news archive] and many legal experts cannot be used to infringe on the rights of US citizens and provides every suspect with a full and fair trial, consistent with America's obligations under international and domestic law. In an "Ask the White House" forum [transcript] on the White House website, Gonzales said in response to questions:

The Military Commissions Act does not apply to American citizens. The military commissions established under the Act may try only alien unlawful enemy combatants, and the new law does not restrict the rights of United States citizens to file writs of habeas corpus in federal court. Every detainee who is detained at Guantanamo Bay has had, or will have, a hearing before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, which is a fair military tribunal designed to determine whether an individual is properly detained as an enemy combatant. If the tribunal determines that he may be detained, then the individual may appeal that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. We provide even greater rights to individuals who go to trial before our military commissions. That trial would be presided over by an independent military judge. The accused will have the right to counsel; he will be presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; he may see and respond to all the evidence introduced; and he may introduce evidence and witnesses on own his behalf. If convicted, he may appeal the commission's decision. This extensive array of procedures and protections are designed to ensure, and will ensure, that we do not detain or prosecute by military commission anyone other than captured terrorists and other alien enemy combatants.
Gonzales also responded to concerns about interrogation methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency and whether such methods were in compliance with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [text]:
As the President has made clear, we cannot discuss the specific methods that our intelligence agents use to question captured terrorists because doing so would help the terrorists train against our techniques. I want to assure you that while our interrogation methods may be tough, they are carefully reviewed to ensure that they are safe and that they are lawful. The United States does not engage in torture, which is flatly prohibited under United States law and international law, and we do not engage in cruel and inhumane treatment falling short of torture, as prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.
In reference to controversy [JURIST report] over whether the new legislation breaches Common Article 3 [text] of the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], Gonzales said:
Back in 2002, the President determined that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, a provision that had previously been applied in civil wars, did not apply to the War on Terror. In June 2006, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which disagreed with that interpretation. Common Article 3 is notoriously vague, however, and there was considerable uncertainty over what it meant to commit an "outrage upon personal dignity" or "humiliating and degrading treatment." The new law, however, provides clear guidance as to what specific conduct under Common Article 3 constitutes a war crime, and it allows the President to define these ambiguous terms so as to provide United States personnel with clear guidelines for their conduct.
The military commissions bill [JURIST news archive] became necessary after the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the commissions, as initially constituted, lacked proper legal authorization [JURIST report].

The new law provides statutory authorization for military commission trials for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and the Bush administration has promised to immediately take steps toward beginning prosecution [briefing transcript; AP report]. A senior State Department official said last week that as many as 80 detainees could face trial by military commission [JURIST report].


 

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