U.S. Sen. Protests Gitmo’s Fixed All-Leftist Observer Policy
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In the name of transparency the Obama administration lets outside groups monitor Military Commission hearings in Guantanamo but the selection process is kept secret and now it’s coming under fire from a lawmaker who sits on the Armed Services Committee for only guaranteeing spots to leftist human rights outfits that advocate for the terrorist defendants.
The designation of the leftist groups as “permanent observers to commission proceedings is inconsistent with ethical principles of fairness, and non-preferential treatment of nongovernmental organizations by agencies of the United States government,” writes Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe in a letter to the Pentagon official in charge of the Military Commissions. “To comply with those well-established principles of fairness and non-preferential treatment, and to ensure public confidence in the Commission process it is essential, when limited space requires a random selection process, all qualified groups should be subject to the random process and no group granted ‘immunity’ from the possibility of not being selected as a GTMO observer,” the senator writes.
The all-leftist roster appears to be part of an effort by the administration to limit the type of information that comes out of Gitmo as it works to keep its promise to close the military prison. Judicial Watch, the only right-of-center organization to regularly monitor Gitmo proceedings, has repeatedly traveled to the U.S. Naval base in southeastern Cuba under a Department of Defense (DOD) initiative to open the legal hearings of the world’s most dangerous terrorists to a wide spectrum of observers.
Since 2008 JW 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. Judicial Watch is an important voice among the regular monitors that mostly represent a narrow, extreme ideological view on terrorist detainee issues.
But in September the Obama administration announced that it was restricting exclusive access to military commission hearings to five leftist human rights group that openly advocate for the terrorist defendants. 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.
Other groups can still apply—and Judicial Watch continues to—and will be considered though not guaranteed a spot. JW applied to attend the December 16-20 hearings for KSM, but was initially rejected “due to the number of observer organizations expressing interest,” according to correspondence from the Office of Military Commissions. A “random number generator” was used to select the organizations, according to the Military Commission contact, Benjamin Fenwick, who offered no further details on the process.
Here is a list of the nine groups that were “randomly selected” to travel to Gitmo along with the five leftist organizations that have a guaranteed spot for every hearing; National Institute for Military Justice, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Brennan Center, New York City Bar Association, University of Toledo Law School, Duke University Law School, National District Attorney’s Association, University of New Mexico School of Law and Pacific Council on International Policy. JW repeatedly challenged being frozen out and this week was notified that some of the lottery winners had pulled out making a slot available, though it’s too late to make arrangements at this point.
Of interesting note is that the Military Commission chief of staff, Michael Quinn, explained to JW that the five organizations guaranteed a seat at every commission proceeding “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.” It’s difficult to imagine that some of the law schools picked to witness the upcoming KSM hearings fall into that category.