America under Bush: Torture, Abductions, Coercion and Trial by Hearsay

January 18th, 2007 - by admin

CBC News & The Associated Press – 2007-01-18 22:19:13

Senator: US ‘Knew Damn Well’ Arar Would be Tortured
CBC News

WASHINGTON (January 18, 2007) — After sitting through withering criticism in a Senate hearing, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised more information on the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian who ended up in a cell in Syria after US officials grabbed him on a stopover in New York.

Gonzales was grilled relentlessly on Thursday by Senate judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy. Leahy said that when Arar — a citizen of both Canada and Syria travelling on a Canadian passport — was detained in 2002, American authorities knew he would be tortured if they deported him to Syria.

“We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn’t be tortured,” said Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. “He’d be held and he’d be investigated. “We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he’d be tortured. And it’s beneath the dignity of this country — a country that has always been a beacon of human rights — to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

“You know and I know that has happened a number of times in the past five years by this country. It is a black mark on us.”

Leahy noted that US officials claimed to have had assurances that people sent to Syria would not be tortured.

“Assurances,” he snorted, “from a country that we also say now that we can’t talk to them because we can’t take their word for anything.”

Arar, then an Ottawa-based engineer, was detained as a terrorism suspect, apparently because of a bad tip from the RCMP. He was flown to Syria, where he was held for a year.

In 2006, a Canadian public inquiry cleared him of any involvement in terrorism.

It was clear that officials from the administration of US President George W. Bush would face a rough questioning on Capitol Hill after the Democrats gained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the November 2006 elections.

Gonzales was not attorney general in 2002 but drafted some of the administration’s justifications for harsh interrogation practices in combating terrorism. He promised the committee a briefing on the Arar case. It was not immediately clear whether the information would be made public.

“Before you get more upset,” he told Leahy, “perhaps you should wait to receive the briefing.”

“How long?” the senator responded.

“I’m hoping that we can get you the information next week.”

US to Allow Hearsay, Coerced Statements in Guantanamo Trials
The Associated Press

The new rules will ‘afford all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.’
— Dan Dell’Orto, Pentagon spokesman

‘No civilized nation permits convictions to rest on coerced evidence, and reliance on such evidence has never been acceptable in military or civilian courts in this country.
— Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First

WASHINGTON (January 18, 2007) — The US Defence Department outlined new rules for detainee trials Thursday that could allow people accused of terrorism to be convicted and perhaps executed using hearsay testimony and coerced statements.

The Pentagon released a 238-page manual for the expected trials of some of the nearly 400 people who are being held at the US naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, accused of ties to al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

But the plan could set up a new clash between US President George W. Bush and his Republicans, and Congress.

The Democrats controlling Congress said they would hold hearings and revive legislation on the plan, while human rights organizations complained that the regulations would allow evidence that would not be tolerated in civilian or military courtrooms.

According to the manual, a detainee’s lawyer could not reveal classified evidence in the person’s defence until the government had a chance to review it. Suspects would be allowed to view summaries of classified evidence, not the material itself.

The new regulations lack some protections used in civilian and military courtrooms, such as against coerced testimony or hearsay evidence — a witness quoting someone else. According to the Pentagon’s new rules, this is necessary when witnesses — such as military personnel or foreigners — may not be available to testify.

Pentagon defends rules amid criticism
At a Pentagon briefing, Dan Dell’Orto, deputy to the Defence Department’s top counsel, promised the new rules would “afford all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.”

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, legal adviser to the Pentagon’s Office on Commissions, said he doubted that most cases would rely solely on coercive or hearsay evidence.

“These case are pretty complex and it’s not going to sink or swim, I don’t believe, on a single statement,” he said.

But Representative Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Missouri and chairman of the House armed services committee, said he planned to scrutinize the manual to ensure that it does not “run afoul” of the Constitution.

“No civilized nation permits convictions to rest on coerced evidence, and reliance on such evidence has never been acceptable in military or civilian courts in this country,” said Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First.

Could eventually charge up to 80 detainees
The new rules are intended to track a law passed last fall by Congress restoring Bush’s plans to have special military commissions try prisoners who were arrested after Washington declared its War on Terror in the wake of the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Those commissions had been struck down earlier in the 2006 by the US Supreme Court.

Officials think that with the evidence they have now, they could eventually charge 60 to 80 detainees, said Hemingway. The Defense Department is currently planning trials for at least 10.

In September 2006, Congress — then led by Republicans — sent Bush a new law granting wide latitude in interrogating and detaining captured enemy combatants. he legislation prohibited some abuses of detainees, including mutilation and rape, but granted the president leeway to decide which interrogation techniques were permissible.

New rules include death penalty
In outlining the maximum punishment for various acts, the new manual includes the death penalty for people convicted of spying or taking part in a “conspiracy or joint enterprise” that kills someone.

The maximum penalty for aiding the enemy — such as providing ammunition or money — is lifetime imprisonment.

‘When you’re in the middle of a war against this enemy, you need to be particularly concerned about the disclosure of that evidence.’-Dan Dell’Orto
As required by law, the manual prohibits the use of statements obtained through torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as prohibited by the Constitution.

But it allows some evidence obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge.

The Detainee Treatment Act, separate legislation championed in 2005 by Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, prohibited the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of military and CIA prisoners.

The Pentagon’s Dell’Orto said that since both sides of the case can admit hearsay evidence, that “levels the playing field.”

Under the rules, the accused will be allowed to know about all evidence that is provided in the trial, Dell’Orto said. They will not be allowed to see classified material, but will be given an unclassified summary or substitute, with the judge first determining whether the summary sufficiently represents the classified material.

“When you’re in the middle of a war against this enemy, you need to be particularly concerned about the disclosure of that evidence,” Dell’Orto said of classified materials.

© The Canadian Press, 2006

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