Justice department not living up to its name

By By Luke Hinz

By Luke Hinz

When the disjointed Iraqi government finally struck an agreement regarding Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2006, human rights advocates railed against the trial, claiming that the politicians were speeding through it only to kill Hussein quickly.

It seems the opposite can be said for the Bush administration in regards to the terrorist detainees in Guantánamo Bay. Currently, 330 men are being held in the makeshift prison, many of whom have been there for six years without any formal charges.

Now, in the face of a recent court ruling that challenges several of those detentions, the Justice Department has hinted that it may hold new hearings to determine whether detainees are being properly held as “enemy combatants.”

You might wonder why it has taken the better part of six years to actually determine whether any of the detainees should be there in the first place? In truth, hearings determining the status of detainees already took place in 2004 in trials where detainees were not allowed lawyers, were forbidden to see much of the evidence presented against them and could seldom call witnesses.

In short, they were denied basic rights given to any suspect in a U.S. criminal court. To add to this systematic destruction of the system, two military hearing officers stated that evidence against some detainees was nothing more than “anonymous accusations.”

The new court ruling also ordered all information that was known about the detainees during the first hearings be disclosed to the court, but Justice Department lawyers claimed that the order was not feasible in part because full records of that information were not kept. So, did it simply disappear? Or is the Justice Department so unconcerned with the lives of the detainees that it simply forgot to write the information down?

By announcing a new round of hearings, the Justice Department is simply acknowledging the incompetence of the first round of hearings, but few believe they will be any different. As one detainee’s lawyer said, “The process was greatly flawed back in 2004, and I think it would be even more flawed now.”

All of this is taking place as the Pentagon is building a new courthouse in Guantánamo Bay with the intention of finally trying the detainees. This move by the Justice Department could halt the trials and set back the already snail-like progress in Cuba even further.

“With all the outside eyes looking in at the process, it’s forcing us to say, ‘OK, did we take everything into consideration when we did the original Combatant Status Review Tribunals?'” Capt. Theodore Fessel Jr., an official at Guantánamo, told the Associated Press.

Good question, Captain, but far too late. You should have asked that when you initially held the hearings. The justice currently found in Cuba is blurry at best. No one can even question whether the detainees are being legitimately held for suspected terrorism because no one is being allowed to see the facts.

The prison has already freed more than 100 prisoners because of a lack of incriminating evidence. Many of them have just been released this year. How many years of their life did they lose because Bush refuses to treat them as prisoners of war? How can one be sure the evidence against the remaining detainees is credible? How can it be called a War on Terrorism if we do not treat the prisoners as such?

Law students will know better than I, but a professor once taught me what is called Blackstone’s formulation, which states that it is “better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” It demands the presence of doubt in any trial, against any suspect, so that justice does not err on the side of wrongful imprisonment. Yet it seems as though the Bush administration and the Justice Department have their own formulation — lock them all up and throw away the key.

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