Military tribunal fiasco

Our view : Return suspected terrorists to U.S. courts

May 11, 2008

It's been years since they were detained, held in an isolated encampment that allows for few if any visitors. Many of the prisoners have never talked to a lawyer, while others languish in obscurity on flimsy or, worse, secret evidence. Their jailers aren't dictators or military juntas. That infamous distinction belongs to the United States. Its shameful treatment of suspected terrorists held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo demands their return to U.S. courts.

The system of military tribunals created to deal with hundreds of detainees, many brought to Guantanamo on suspect charges, has been deeply flawed from the start, designed with little regard for due process. Nor is it equipped to deliver justice. Administrators at the Guantanamo center have said they don't expect trials to get under way before next year.

But that's delaying a just resolution to this situation. The best outcome would be for the government to cut its losses and return these suspects, at least those on which it has legitimate evidence, to the U.S. judicial system. The military tribunals have been a work in progress for prosecutors and judges and a logistical nightmare for detainee lawyers, who are trying to responsibly defend their clients against charges related to alleged acts of terrorism. Classified evidence, witnesses who can't be produced, hearsay statements and evidence resulting from torture are allowed in this system.

The only detainee tried under the system was Australian David Hicks, who pleaded guilty in an agreement that allowed him to serve his sentence in Australia, ending his five-year confinement.

The U.S. can't keep these suspects at Guantanamo indefinitely; the government should resign itself to releasing those it has no evidence on and charge the others. The case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks, has shown that a federal judge can ably try a case with national security concerns and protect the interests of the country and the defendant.

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