Michael Ratner: What is at stake is the future of justice in the US
February 11, 2008
BRIGADIER GENERAL TW HARTMANN: Today the convening authority for military commissions received sworn charges against six individuals alleged to be responsible for the planning and execution of the attacks upon the United States of America which occurred on September 11, 2001.
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: So, Michael, the announcement was made that six detainees at Guantanamo Bay were charged in connection with the attacks of September 11. What do you make of the process right now?
MICHAEL RATNER: The Center for Constitutional Rights, where I work, represents Mohammed al-Khatani. His torture is well known. There’s 49 days of torture that are documented in a log that was leaked to the press. It includes everything from stripping, hooding, sexual humiliation, dogs, intravenous injection of liquids, enemas, and the like. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, another one of the six, was waterboarded or water tortured. So you’re talking about a base in these six of torture. And what’s remarkable is the Bush administration believes they can use evidence derived from torture—they don’t call it torture; they call it coercion, enhanced interrogation techniques. We all know it’s torture. And they can use that evidence going forward to prove the guilt of these defendants. So you start with that as the base. And on top of that, you put a trial procedure—and I use “trial” really carefully, because it’s not really a trial; it’s a sham proceeding; it’s not a federal criminal trial, it’s not a courts martial, but is something made up by our government that allows evidence of coercion, allows secret evidence, allows hearsay evidence, doesn’t have a jury trial, and the judges are hand-picked. So on top of torture, you put this sham system, and then on top of that you put a death penalty.
NKWETA: Michael, what do you make of the timing of this? What do you make of the timing of this announcement in the light of what’s going on politically domestically in the US?
RATNER: Well, it seems utterly opportunistic to me. Mohammed al-Khatani, our client, has been in Guantanamo six years. This could have happened before. They had commissions set up before. And it looks to me like in a broad way that the Republicans want to make the Democrats appear weak on issues of national security and themselves to appear strong. So they come out and say, “Look it, we’ve captured the 9/11 guys. We’re going to put them on trial.” And you have the Democrats saying, “Well, we don’t think these trials are fair.” And so the public perception, at least the ones the Republicans hope for, is that the Democrats are seen as weak on an issue of national security, which is always one of the Democrats’ alleged worries in taking on the Republicans. That’s certainly one of the major reasons I think we’re seeing these charges now, particularly as it’s unlikely those trials will go forward before the elections. The second, of course, could be that this is the last year of the Bush administration. How does he go out of office without at least saying, “Hey, guys, I at least captured the people and put them on trial who were involved in 9/11”? ‘Cause he certainly hasn’t done that with Osama bin Laden. They’ve been saying they want to close Gitmo for years. The president said he wanted to close it. But words don’t mean anything. There’s still over 250 people at Guantanamo. The question is: what’s going to happen to those? The administration claims they’re going to charge 60 or 80 people, but I think you and I will be talking next year before we actually get one of these trials full end to completion, because there are so many ways in which they are off the page of human liberty and off the page of law that I question that even our moderate to conservative courts in the United States will uphold trials based on evidence from torture. So I think we’re talking about a very long time to both closing Guantanamo as well as to having any trials go forward. The broader issue, which has been happening for a number of years now, post-9/11, is first the issue of the legitimization of torture and the use of evidence from torture in the trials of alleged terrorists, and trying to make that an exception to the fact that we can’t allow or don’t allow evidence of torture or coercion in any of our regular criminal trials. And one question is: will that be just an exception, bad as it is? Or will that, as it often happens, seep into our regular justice system? The second is setting up a special set of courts to try alleged terrorists. That’s what’s done or what was done in Peru under Fujimori; that was done in Nigeria; that was done in Turkey. And the question is: does the fact that the major country in the world, one that is supposedly proud of its human rights, is engaging in torture and special tribunals and the death penalty, will that really set a template not only for the future of justice in the United States but for the future of justice in the world?
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