SEPTEMBER 10, 2013
In a startling about-face, the Obama administration is restricting exclusive access to Military Commission hearings in Guantanamo Bay to five leftist human rights groups that openly advocate for the terrorist defendants.
The abrupt policy change was delivered a few weeks ago to Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)—like Judicial Watch—that have repeatedly traveled to the U.S. Naval base in southeastern Cuba to observe the commission proceedings. In the name of transparency, the Department of Defense (DOD) years ago opened the legal proceedings of the world’s most dangerous terrorists to a wide spectrum of observers.
Since 2008 Judicial Watch, the only right-of-center organization to regularly monitor Gitmo proceedings, has sent representatives to Cuba 12 times. JW was present for the 2008 arraignment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the 2011 arraignment of USS Cole bomber Bad al-Rahim al-Nassir and a number of KSM motion hearings in 2012 and 2013.
Under the new policy only five NGOs, selected by the Pentagon, will be guaranteed a seat at the commission hearings. They include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Bar Association. A memo issued by the Office of the Secretary of Defense blames “logistical limitations” for the sudden move.
Judicial Watch appealed the decision but the Pentagon is not backing down from its new policy giving permanent observer seats at Gitmo to nonprofits that advocate for terrorists. “These groups represent a narrow, extreme ideological view on terrorist detainee issues,” JW President Tom Fitton writes in a letter to the DOD official in charge of the Military Commissions. “As you may well know, in some instances, persons affiliated with the five NGOs have served as legal counsel or political advocates for the terrorist detainees held at GTMO.”
The appeal letter further says that the group of permanent observers should reflect a full range of views in the debate on terrorist detainee issue. “Your proposed system could have the effect of freezing out any alternative voices from the NGO community, specifically those voices that have not served as legal and political advocates for terrorist detainees.”
The Military Commission chief of staff, Michael Quinn, responded by explaining that the five NGOs “were selected due to their ability to reach an international audience, their experience with international human rights in criminal trials and their stated mission to advance human rights through advocacy and respect for the law.” He ends by expressing appreciation for “Judicial Watch’s interest in the conduct of military commissions” and invites JW to watch proceedings on closed-circuit television at Fort Meade, Maryland.
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