In a letter to Bush administration officials yesterday, the president of the American Bar Association offered his organization’s assistance in ensuring fairness in the military commissions used to try suspected terrorists.
The letter, which was critical of a process described as existing outside “established principles of due process fundamental to our nation’s concept of justice,” is a continuation of the ABA's efforts to bring the military tribunals more in line with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“No matter how outrageous the conduct, we must insure that these detainees receive fair trials that meet the highest standards of due process and justice for which this nation has long been recognized throughout the world,” wrote ABA President William Neukom. “We believe the established principles of due process must be followed, and the ABA is prepared to assist.”
Neukom stopped short of offering to find civilian counsel for detainees charged in the tribunals, as the Pentagon has asked. The ABA had previously agreed to help find lawyers but withdrew its support last year, in protest the tribunals’ procedures.
So far, the Pentagon has assigned a military lawyer to represent one of the detainees, Mohammed al Qahtani. Al Qahtani is also the only detainee of the six with civilian representation, though Guantanamo Bay officials recently denied him and his lawyers a joint meeting. (Click here for an Associated Press story.)
In the letter, Neukom criticized the tribunals’ evidentiary rules which could permit prosecutors to present hearsay and statements made by detainees under duress and the limits placed on detainees’ access to their lawyers. He advocated a system that would provide for habeas corpus review and rein in military prosecutors.
Neukom’s concerns, he said, were heightened by the government’s decision to seek the death penalty in the co-conspirators case. The complexity of a capital case requires more from defense attorneys more skill and more experience than perhaps is currently available, he said.