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Former Critic of Military Tribunals is Now the Chief Judge at Gitmo

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Today's New York Times leads with the revelation that "The chief judge of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay once wrote a paper criticizing the use of such tribunals to try suspects held there." I guess they paid him enough to cross over to the dark side. An excerpt from the Times article:
Back in 2002, a master's degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration's plan to use military commissions to try Guantanamo suspects, concluding that "even a good military tribunal is a bad idea." It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author's big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The system, Judge Kohlmann wrote in 2002, would face criticism for the "apparent lack of independence" of military judges and would have "credibility problems," the very argument made by Guantanamo's critics. He said it would be better to try terrorism suspects in federal courts in the United States. "Unnecessary use of military tribunals in the face of reasonable international criticism," he wrote, "is an ill-advised move." The paper is becoming a reference work of sorts in the curious history of Guantanamo, which includes a number of former officials who have become outspoken critics, including several former intelligence officers and a former chief military prosecutor. Judge Kohlmann may be the only one who has switched the order, first delivering a fervent attack on Guantanamo and later becoming one of its officials.
Now that's one serious flip-flop. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have long criticized the kangaroo court system at Guantanamo. But, unfortunately, passage by Congress last year of the Military Commissions Act turned that bad policy into bad law. With this current system, there is no real justice for the detainees. I'm sure some of them are indeed "the worst of the worst". But we have reason to believe that some are there by mistake -- having simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time, or arbitrarily sold to U.S. troops by bounty hunters. Under the current system, there is no fair way to sort them out. Why can't we just give each of them a good old-fashioned fair trial? Then we can justly punish the guilty ones and let the innocent ones go home to their families. I have asked this before, and I must ask again: Why is a fair trial so unacceptable to the Bush administration? ###


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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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