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The New York Times this morning is reporting that Afghanistan is holding secret trials for dozens of Afghan men who were formerly detained by the US in Gitmo and Baghram:
Dozens of Afghan men who were previously held by the United States at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are now being tried [in Afghanistan] in secretive Afghan criminal proceedings based mainly on allegations forwarded by the American military.
The prisoners are being convicted and sentenced to as much as 20 years’ confinement in trials that typically run between half an hour and an hour, said human rights investigators who have observed them. One early trial was reported to have lasted barely 10 minutes, an investigator said. /snip
Witnesses do not appear in court and cannot be cross-examined. There are no sworn statements of their testimony.
Instead, the trials appear to be based almost entirely on terse summaries of allegations that are forwarded to the Afghan authorities by the United States military. Afghan security agents add what evidence they can, but the cases generally center on events that sometimes occurred years ago in war zones that the authorities may now be unable to reach.
“These are no-witness paper trials that deny the defendants a fundamental fair-trial right to challenge the evidence and mount a defense,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, a lawyer for the advocacy group Human Rights First who has studied the proceedings. “So any convictions you get are fundamentally flawed.”
Join me below.
According to the Times, since 2002 the Bush administration has been trying to get various countries to prosecute Gitmo prisoners as part of their “repatriation.” Britain and other countries have refused because they say that US evidence won’t hold up in their courts. But not Afghanistan:
the Afghan authorities have now tried 82 of the former prisoners since last October and referred more than 120 other cases for prosecution.
Of the prisoners who have been through the makeshift Afghan court, 65 have been convicted and 17 acquitted, according to a report on the prosecutions by Human Rights First that is to be made public on Thursday.
What does the US government say about these remarkable, civilized, reliable, fair trials? Please refrain from scoffing:
United States officials defended their role in providing information [and the defendants] for the Afghan trials as a legitimate way to try to contain the threats that some of the more dangerous detainees would pose if they were released outright.
“These are not prosecutions that are being done at the request or behest of the United States government,” said Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detention policy. “These are prosecutions that are being done by Afghans for crimes committed on their territory by their nationals.”
Ms. Hodgkinson said the United States had pressed the Afghan authorities “to conduct the trials in a fair manner,” and had insisted that lawyers be provided for the prisoners after the first 10 of them were convicted without legal representation. But she did not directly reject the criticisms raised in the Human Rights First report, adding, “These trials are much more consistent with the traditional Afghan justice process than they are with ours.”
Let us briefly review the trial options for Afghani prisoners in Gitmo: indefinite detention without trial and without habeas review by the US courts (depending on pending US Supreme Court decisions) and possibly with
interrogations torture, OR possibly torture and then a show trial by a US military commission without confrontation of witnesses, possibly resulting in a death sentence, OR possibly torture followed by a second, illegal extradition to Afghanistan and a “trial” without a record or review that results in decades of confinement in an Afghani prison. Spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam.
Pardon me for being overly fastidious about the trial rights of the accused, but that’s an extremely disgraceful, embarrassing list of options.