Friday, January 19, 2007

New, improved -- but still flawed -- military tribunals

The Pentagon has released a manual outlining new procedures for President Bush's terrorist-trying military commissions. The manual reflects the bill passed in September by the then-GOP-led Congress.

The good news is that it's better than what Bush had originally proposed. The bad news is that it still contains needlessly troubling provisions, such as allowing hearsay evidence and coerced confessions.

Unsurprisingly, Congressional Democrats say they'll revisit the military commissions law to try to fix the worst problems. And Arlen Specter says he'll support that. It remains to be seen whether such changes would survive a Bush veto, but they should be pursued nonetheless.

As I've written before, terrorists deserve to be treated harshly; but suspected terrorists deserve rights, including a fair trial. The new tribunal rules come 90 percent of the way toward achieving that; let's take care of that last 10 percent and start putting people on trial.

Update: A list of reactions from defense lawyers and human rights groups. Among the comments:

Martin S. Pinales, president, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers:

"Hearsay, double hearsay, and coerced confessions are all admissible, including statements extracted from witnesses by torture. Given the shaky constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act, the detainees' habeas corpus right to challenge their detention -- and the validity of any conviction -- is more important than ever."

Colonel Dwight H. Sullivan, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, Chief Defense Counsel:

"The rules appear carefully crafted to ensure than an accused can be convicted -- and possibly executed -- based on nothing but a coerced confession."

Yeah, problems remain....

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