October 10, 2003
Detainees in Guantanamo Bay only get a lawyer when they agree to plead guilty

We have to accept that we are fighting for democracy... not to tear democracy down.

A group of former military officers, federal judges and diplomats are urging the US Supreme Court to intervene the case of the indefinite detentions of extremist suspects at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Our most important diplomatic asset has been this nation's values," said the brief filed by 19 former diplomats, including two former assistant secretaries of state and a former assistant secretary of defence.

The group — an eclectic mix that includes two World War II former prisoners of war — worry that the indefinite detention of more than 650 suspects damages the reputation of the US and endangers Americans around the world.

The group filed 'friend of the court' briefs on Thursday in the case of 16 prisoners who sued to seek the right to have defence lawyers.

Separately, three retired military officers — two navy rear admirals, both former military judges, and a marine general — said in their brief that they feared that ignoring the Geneva Conventions in Guantanamo will give other nations "an excuse" to do the same "and will endanger American soldiers captured in the future."

The US government describes the detainees — mostly captured during the Afghanistan campaign — as "unlawful combatants" that can be held indefinitely and do not deserve Geneva Convention prisoner of war protection.

John Gibbons, a former appeals court judge, said justice was being "totally denied" to the detainees in Guantanamo.

"They don't have access to lawyers; they have had no hearings; they are just in limbo. That's as clear an example of justice denied as you can find," he said.

Mr Gibbons said he found it "repugnant" that the administration could order the imprisonment of people possibly beyond the reach of law, especially as he said the US clearly ruled over Guantanamo Bay, even if it was technically part of Cuba.

Shafiq Rasul is among the Britons held at the military camp
He said he hoped the Supreme Court would be persuaded to "restore the rule of law" with the filing of the legal papers by the seven groups supporting two cases brought concerning 16 detainees, including two Britons - Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal.

Don Guter, the US navy's judge advocate general until last year, said extreme measures were necessary after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

But Mr Guter, who was inside the Pentagon when it was deliberately hit by a hijacked plane that day, said it was not acceptable simply to hold suspected al-Qaeda or Taleban members until the US' war on terror was over.

Such a victory might never come he said, and even if there was no public outcry about the treatment of Guantanamo detainees the US should permit them various rights, not least to stop possible retributions.

The argument filed to the Supreme Court by Mr Guter and other former military lawyers said: "The lives of American military forces may well be endangered by the United States' failure to grant foreign prisoners in its custody the same rights that the United States insists be accorded to American prisoners held by foreigners."

That view was backed by ex-prisoners-of-war, some of whom told the Supreme Court they believed they owed their lives to the fact that their captors abided by the Geneva Conventions designed to protect captured soldiers.

William Rogers, a former undersecretary of state, said there was concern that the situation in Guantanamo would take the US from the moral high ground where it could be a role model to other nations to a much lower position.

He and 18 former US diplomats, including 11 ambassadors, filed their own papers which said: "The perception of this case abroad - that the power of the United States can be exercised outside the law and even, it is presumed , in conflict with the law - will diminish our stature in the wider world."

The cases of the Guantanamo prisoners have been rejected by lower courts on the grounds that the courts have no jurisdiction in Cuba.

Posted by tstubbs at October 10, 2003 08:04 PM | Trackback
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