Commentary: Courts, not military tribunals for war detainees

The Miami HeraldApril 5, 2010 

Military commission hearings for detainees in the war on terror resume this week in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even though the U.S. government has failed to produce a manual that governs the rules of evidence and procedures.

That's hardly the worst thing wrong with these unusual tribunals, but it's an indication of the dysfunctional nature of the process.

The hearing for one of the lesser-known detainees, a Sudanese named Noor Mohammed, will be an early test of the updated Military Commissions Act of 2009 signed by President Obama last October.

The new version improved over the old one by excluding some of the more flagrant violations of civil liberties, such as statements obtained through torture or degrading treatment. Defendants can attend their entire trial, examine all evidence against them, cross-examine witnesses and call their own witnesses.

None of these refinements addresses fundamental problems, however. The tribunals still allow for at least some types of coerced statements and hearsay evidence and essentially leave in place a judicial process widely viewed as illegitimate by much of the world. To go forward at this point, without a written rule book, is even more irresponsible.

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