Anorak News | The Trial

The Trial

by | 8th, July 2004

‘WHEN American officials were casting round for a precedent for the judicial aberration that is Guantanamo, they happened across a book in the Pentagon library.

Guilty until proven guilty

It was by a gentleman called Franz Kafka, it was called The Trial and it seemed to contain a blueprint for the kind of ‘justice’ they were interested in dispensing.

There were a couple of things that needed adapting – in the book, for instance, the accused is allowed to walk free between his regular appearances in court.

But essentially it has acted as a kind of manual for the US administration’s treatment of the prisoners, who have now been held for 2.5 years without charge, trial or access to a lawyer.

And then the US Supreme Court decided to stick its nose in, ruling last week that the 595 prisoners still held on Cuba were entitled to challenge their detentions in a US court.

Here was a problem – US courts still hold by quaint legal notions such as presumed innocence, the burden of proof and the right to representation.

Hell, they even let the public into the courtroom.

But you have to get up very early to get one over on this administration – and this morning we marvel at President Bush and his chums’ response.

The Guardian explains that the US court whose job it will be to review the detentions will in fact be another military tribunal – the Combat Status Review Tribunal.

And – you guessed it – the detainees will still not have access to a lawyer and nor will the hearings be open to the public.

Instead, prisoners will be assigned a military officer (of lower rank than the review panel officers) whose job it will be to advise them on proceedings.

As a concession, the Pentagon will allow prisoners to testify in their own defence and – in theory at least – to call witnesses.

Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer of a British detainee, called it ‘a total smokescreen’.

‘The supreme court’s ruling is very clear,’ he says. ‘They have a right to an independent tribunal.’

Not that the prisoners themselves know that – the Bush administration has also cunningly circumvented the supreme court ruling by not telling the detainees of their new rights.

Over to Steve Watt, a senior fellow at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuits at the supreme court.

‘If they don’t know the courthouse doors are open to them,’ he asks, ‘how can they bring a challenge to their detention?’

The answer is, of course, that they can’t. It’s brilliant, beyond even the diabolical imagination of Kafka himself.’

Posted: 8th, July 2004 | In: Broadsheets Comment | TrackBack | Permalink