US court declares military commissions illegal

Issue 

Pip Hinman

Human rights activists have welcomed the US Supreme Court's decision, on June 29, declaring the military commissions for Guantanamo Bay prisoners illegal. Raul Bassi from the Cantebury-Bankstown Peace Group, which has campaigned to free David Hicks, told Green Left Weekly, "This is a big defeat for Bush and Howard and the so-called war on terror and a win for the campaign for justice for the Guantanamo prisoners".

In a five-three decision, the judges decided that the military commissions violated the 1949 Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war because the commissions did not provide even the most basic safeguards guaranteed by civilian and military courts as well as the US constitution.

The Supreme Court's ruling is in line with the claims of human rights organisations, legal experts, peace activists, UN officials and military lawyers that the Guantanamo Bay prison is an abuse of human rights and should be shut down.

The Supreme Court case was brought by Guantanamo Bay prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni national who is accused of conspiring to commit war crimes because he was a driver for Osama bin Laden. The ruling follows a 2004 decision that US citizens could not be held as "enemy combatants" without charges or trial, and that non-US citizens could not be detained indefinitely without trial.

Hicks, who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay without trial for four-and-a-half years, had been due to face a military commission. Now, unless the Australian government pushes for his repatriation, he is likely to face a US civil court with all the guarantees that those courts allow, Bassi said.

"Howard has said that he was given the opposite legal advice. Yet many people, including the former High Court judge Mary Gaudron, were telling him the opposite. Even the US-appointed lawyers for David Hicks were saying the same and that the president had overstepped his powers."

The US court ruling comes a few days after the British Foreign Office decided it would not ask Washington to release Hicks, who has British citizenship, saying he was not a citizen when he was arrested in 2001. Hicks's legal team had hoped that by gaining dual citizenship (his mother is British), the British government would urge his release as it did for the nine other Britons who were released last year without charge.

Hicks has been charged with conspiracy, attempted murder and aiding the enemy. Yet unlike normal criminal charges, no details have been given. Hicks has denied the charges, and no evidence had been produced.

A protest has been called in Sydney for July 15 to press for Guantanamo Bay to be closed and Hicks to be freed. It is part of an international day of action that has been called by the Guantanamo Coalition in Britain. The Sydney protest, organised by the Canterbury-Bankstown Peace Group, Justice for Hicks and Habib and the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, will begin at noon at the Sydney Town Hall.

The protesters will demand a full inquiry into the deaths of the three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay on June 10; the repatriation of all Guantanamo detainees; and the closure of the military prison. Protesters are urged to wear orange, the colour the prisoners are forced to wear at Guantanamo.

[For more information or to get involved, phone Marlene Obeid on 0401 758 871 or Anna Samson on 0401 900 690.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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