The international human-rights group Amnesty International Wednesday released a blow-by-blow account of the first week of the Guantanamo Bay trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, accused of supporting terrorism by, among other things, being Osama bin Laden’s driver.
Hamdan’s trial, which began last week, is the first under the Pentagon’s re-worked military commission system. In 2006, acting on a challenge from Hamdan’s defense team, the Supreme Court struck down the Pentagon’s first attempt at drawing procedures to try the Guantanamo detainees. That gave rise to congressional passage of the Military Commissions Act, which attempted to bring the tribunal’s procedures closer to the standards of constitutional due process.
Defense Department charging documents say Hamdan, a Yemeni, was a member of al-Qaeda for five years, from 1996 to 2001 and in that time was an active participant in a conspiracy to attack the United States. Along with serving as bin Laden’s driver, the Pentagon says Hamdan was at times bin Laden’s bodyguard. And that he also transported weapons to al-Qaeda training sites and participated in training sessions.
Amnesty International has had attorney Matt Pollard at Gitmo to observe the proceedings and Wednesday he released a 23-page report detailing what the organization believes are flaws in the commissions process. Here is an excerpt:
By the end of the week, serious problems raised by this system of special military trials, which abandon established international human rights and humanitarian law standards, were already evident. Many of these concerns have been discussed more generically in previous Amnesty International reports. However, the trial of Salim Hamdan is a first opportunity to see the trial procedures operate in practice. Perhaps this is why the first case to be selected for trial is one of the less complicated ones, in the sense that it involves someone who is accused primarily of being a driver and bodyguard rather than of having higher-level involvement with al-Qa’ida, and who is not known to have been subjected to the more extreme forms of ill-treatment employed by the USA in the “war on terror”, such as water-boarding, a form of torture.
As Amnesty International has previously pointed out, the US government has effectively treated Salim Hamdan as little more than a human guinea pig in its experiment with military commissions over the past nearly seven years. Following last week’s trial proceedings, a former US Justice Department war crimes prosecutor has been quoted as saying, “This is essentially a new legal system, and they are using Hamdan to work out the kinks. It’s a guinea pig trial.”
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The abuses Salim Hamdan is known to have suffered are not necessarily the most severe to have been publicly exposed so far, and the military judge in charge of the trial, US Navy Captain Keith J. Allred, has visibly sought to apply what are inherently unfair procedures and rules in as impartial a manner as possible. Despite this, the first week of the trial has already further exposed how Hamdan’s treatment since late 2001, through to his present trial under the MCA, have entailed multiple violations of his human rights.
Hamdan’s trial is expected to last for several more weeks and the Pentagon hopes to try as many as 80 of the approximately 260 detainees left at GTMO in a similar fashion. Hamdan, 37, faces life in prison if convicted by a two-thirds vote of the commission.
You can access the entire AI report here.
You can review the Defense Department’s charges against Hamdan here.