The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 17      May 2, 2011

U.S. rulers chip away at
rights with ‘terror’ trials
(front page)
U.S. president Barack Obama reiterated April 17 that he doesn’t intend to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that he would have preferred to try some Guantánamo prisoners in U.S. civilian courts—a plan that was dropped by the White House earlier this month.

What’s important for working people is how all the administration’s shifting moves fit into the government’s ongoing campaign to chip away at workers’ rights under the guise of “fighting terrorism.”

Attorney General Eric Holder reported April 4 that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others incarcerated at the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo will now face military tribunals, not civilian trials as he had proposed in November 2009. The five are charged with major responsibility for the 2001 World Trade Center bombing.

Holder, who told New Yorker magazine last year that prosecuting the men in federal court would be “the defining event of my time as attorney general,” said April 4 that the trial was off. “Members of Congress have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantánamo detainees to trial in the United States,” he said.

On his second day in office in 2009, President Barack Obama ordered Guantánamo closed within one year. He also suspended military tribunals for Guantánamo prisoners, under which the Pentagon appoints the judge and jury.

In November 2009 Holder announced that Mohammed and four others would stand trial in a federal court in Lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center site. The proposal immediately unleashed a sharp debate in the U.S. ruling class. Not only many Republicans, but also some prominent liberal Democrats, such as New York senator Charles Schumer, denounced the idea.

While some opponents cloaked their arguments in complaints that a trial in New York was “insensitive” to relatives of those killed in the terrorist attack, others pointed to their more serious concern, the fact that Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times while in U.S. custody that could make “evidence” derived from torture inadmissible in court.

In pushing for the trial the White House made clear what kind of treatment awaited the five Guantánamo detainees and how special restrictions would be used to rig the outcome—measures that would be used to set a precedent for undermining workers’ rights and further narrow political space for workers to organize against the bosses and their government.

The Guantánamo defendants would have no right to the presumption of innocence. Testifying before a Senate committee in 2009, Holder was asked what would happen if the men were not convicted. He replied, “Failure is not an option.” Obama went further, telling reporters that anyone offended by a civilian trial for Mohammed wouldn’t find it offensive “when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.” His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, declared Mohammed is “going to meet his maker.”

Holder told the Senate committee that, like the military tribunals, defendants would be denied access to evidence used against them. Moreover, he said, Mohammed would not be permitted to express his political views in court.

The Obama administration has announced plans to establish a legal basis for holding some inmates indefinitely, without a trial, for cases where the administration is concerned it won’t win a conviction, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is based on “confessions” under torture.

Mohammed has been in U.S. custody since 2003. Charges were filed against him in 2008. He has still not gone to trial, either before a federal court or a military commission.

There are also inmates at Guantánamo who have been cleared of all charges but have not been released. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned an appeal April 18 by five Uighurs originally from China who remain behind bars even though Washington has cleared them of any terrorist charges. They asked the court to rule they could be resettled in the United States, but the justices refused to hear their case.
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