MIAMI (Reuters) - Amnesty International urged the United States on Thursday to abandon plans to try Guantanamo prisoners before military tribunals and asked other nations not to contribute any evidence for use at the trials.
The London-based human rights group said the trials do not meet international standards of fairness and should be moved to the U.S. federal courts.
“These trials threaten to cut corners in pursuit of a few convictions and add to the injustice that the Guantanamo detention facility has come to symbolize,” said Susan Lee, Amnesty’s Americas Program Director.
The report comes as the United States prepares to restart the tribunals with Monday’s scheduled arraignment of Australian prisoner David Hicks, charged with providing material support for terrorism by fighting for al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Hicks, 31, is the only person charged so far under a new system of war crimes trials authorized by the U.S. Congress last year and formally called military commissions.
But the United States declared its intention to try 60 to 80 of the 385 foreign captives held at Guantanamo, including 14 “high-value” prisoners sent there in September from secret CIA prisons.
Amnesty said likely defendants include people captured in Pakistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mauritania, Gambia, Egypt and other places where the United States was not engaged in armed conflict. Some were victims of secret detention, secret transfers from country to country, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, it said.
“The military commissions will be convened following a trail of illegality, with those to be tried arbitrarily detained and ill-treated for years,” Amnesty said in a report titled “Justice Delayed and Justice Denied.”
The group said it was especially concerned the trials could end in executions. It called on other states “not to provide any information to assist the prosecution in military commission trials, even in cases where the death penalty is not sought.”
The Bush administration has insisted it needs to hold and try dangerous individuals at Guantanamo as part of its war against terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Amnesty said the law authorizing the tribunals had removed the defendants from the protections of the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law, while “backdating the war” to allow prosecution via military commissions for crimes committed before September 11, 2001.
It said the defendants had been held virtually incommunicado for interrogation for as long as five years and denied the right to a trial within a reasonable time period.
Detention at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba makes it difficult for prisoners to locate and call witnesses who could testify in their defense, the report said. And while the rules prohibit the use of evidence obtained through torture, they do not exclude the use of information obtained through coercion, including the detainees’ own confessions, Amnesty said.
The judges and jurors are active members of the U.S. armed forces under President George W. Bush’s command, and appeals would be heard by judges appointed by the U.S. secretary of defense, rather than an independent court, Amnesty said.