The Trials of Guantanamo Bay
In one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama instituted a 120-day suspension of military tribunals held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base.
The decision to halt the trials was a sign of Obama's desire to distance his administration's policies on the war-crimes prosecution of detainees from those of his predecessor, George W. Bush. (In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53 percent of Americans said the United States should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.)
Gitmo, as the base is known, has a history of special uses. In the early 1990s, the base was a refuge for thousands of Haitian refugees who fled the war-torn country on fishing boats (most were later forcibly sent home after legal fights originating from former President George H.W. Bush's administration). Later, under President Bill Clinton, the 45-square-mile base became a processing center for immigrants found at sea.
In 2001, Pentagon attorneys began debating where to hold military tribunals for suspected al-Qaeda terrorists rounded up in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A prison facility designed to hold 2,000 prisoners was built at Guantanamo Bay in late 2001. By January 2002, hooded and shackled detainees were being sent there. Today, the maximum-security detention facility holds about 245 prisoners, most of whom have never been formally charged and some who have been cleared for release but have nowhere to go.
More on the cases tried at Guantanamo Bay after the jump
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld outlined the rules for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, and in 2003, six prisoners were set to face war-crimes trials (their names were not released).
By August 2004, the first pretrial hearings for Osama bin Laden's former driver, Salim Hamdan, had begun, but by November, a federal judge in Washington had struck down the government's case against Hamdan, saying he deserved a separate hearing to see if he was a prisoner of war.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with Hamdan and the Bush administration responded with a new tribunal system.
Some of the most notable cases at Gitmo:
The Australian: David Hicks -- The 33-year-old former kangaroo skinner and Muslim convert was the first Guantanamo Bay prisoner to be charged under the facility's new tribunal system. Hicks had converted to Islam in 1999 after fighting with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and took the name Muhammed Dawood.
He then traveled to Pakistan and attended a training camp followed by a tour in Afghanistan in 2001 at an al-Qaeda-controlled training facility. Captured by an Afghan warlord in December 2001, Hicks was taken to Guantanamo Bay and charged in 2004 with fighting with the Taliban.
After his original charges were voided by the Supreme Court ruling, Hicks was charged a second time in February 2007. He pleaded guilty that March to providing material support for terrorism and received a suspended nine-month prison term.
Hicks was removed from Guantanamo Bay to serve the rest of his sentence; He was released from an Australian prison in December 2007.
The Driver: Salim Ahmed Hamdan -- Hamdan, a Yemeni-born driver to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was captured in November 2001 in southern Afghanistan at a roadblock, allegedly with two surface-to-air missiles in the car.
He was to be tried under a White House directive that said non-U.S. citizens could be subject to military commissions, with no judicial review and no prohibition on evidence gleaned through torture, though it said they would be treated "humanely."
In June 2006, the Supreme Court struck down the system the Bush administration created, saying it was neither authorized by federal law nor required by military necessity, and ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions.
Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, under which Hamdan was tried. It imposes tight limits on defendants' traditional courtroom rights, including restrictions on their ability to examine the evidence against them, to challenge their incarceration and to exclude evidence gained through witness coercion.
Statements derived from harsh interrogations -- not torture -- are allowable if the judge finds the evidence reliable and relevant.
Hamdan's trial began in July and on Aug. 6, he was convicted of aiding terrorism but acquitted of conspiracy. Facing a possible life sentence, Hamdan received a 66-month term.
He was sent to Yemen in November to serve the remaining month of his sentence.
The Videographer: Ali al-Bahlul -- Described as al-Qaeda's media chief who promised an "endless war" against the United States, the 39-year-old, Yemeni-born Bahlul created recruitment videos celebrating terrorist attacks and personally taped the final statements of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, prosecutors said.
He was convicted on 35 counts of solicitation to commit murder, providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison in November.
Bahlul spoke for about 45 minutes before his sentencing, celebrating the attacks on what he called the "infidels' trade towers."
At his week-long trial, Bahlul refused to represent himself and instructed his attorney to be silent. "We will fight any government that governs America," he said. "We are the only ones on Earth who stand against you."
Seventeen others face war crimes charges. The Pentagon dropped charges against Saudi citizen Mohammad al-Qahtani because of tainted evidence against him gleaned from torture.
Four cases on hold include Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash.
By Derek Kravitz |
January 21, 2009; 2:38 PM ET
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