Death Camp on Guantanamo?

By: Julien Ball

For over eighteen months, the United States government has detained approximately 680 prisoners without charges or access to legal representation at Camp Delta, located on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners have been denied any access to the outside world. And recently the military floated plans to turn Camp Delta into a death camp where prisoners can be executed. President George W. Bush, the Texecutioner, already signed a military order in November 2001 that allows a military tribunal to secretly decide death sentences for foreign nationals.

According to official Pentagon procedures, the Secretary of Defense may appoint seven military officers, who would serve as both judges and jurors, to the tribunals. If the officers come to a unanimous decision, a death sentence can be imposed. Although defendants supposedly have the right to hire a civil attorney to defend them, civil attorneys can be excluded from certain proceedings. Moreover, military intelligence has the right to monitor all conversations between defendants and their attorneys. If that wasn't bad enough, prosecutors can even introduce hearsay evidence, which is banned in civilian trials, into military tribunals. In an attempt to prevent public outcry over this process, proceedings will be subject to media blackout. Perhaps worst of all, if a prisoner somehow manages to overcome these barriers and is found innocent by the tribunal, the Pentagon has said that they may decide to keep the prisoner at Camp Delta anyway.

Since the U.S. unveiled their plans for a death chamber at Guantanamo, government officials have been contemplating whom to try under the military tribunals. As in many capital cases, political considerations have driven the decision making process. The federal government has been particularly concerned with showing that the so-called war on terrorism has been successful in their efforts to win support for their declaration of unending war. In July, Bush announced plans to prosecute six prisoners but would not say who they were. Two of these detainees, Moazzam Begg, 35, and Ferroz Abbasi, 23, turned out to be British citizens, and the third detainee, David Hicks, 28, turned out to be Australian. So the U.S. postponed plans to prosecute these three men. Then after discussions with representatives of the British and Australian governments--both of whom have been strong supporters of the U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq--the U.S. has said that it will not seek the death penalty against the three men.

Another prisoner who has been mentioned as a potential candidate for a military tribunal is Zacarias Moussaoui, whose capture the U.S. once touted as proof of the success of its war on terrorism. Federal prosecutors are trying him in civilian court as a conspirator in the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and are seeking the death penalty, even though he was in a Minnesota jail when the attacks took place (see New Abolitionist, May 2002, Issue 24). U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema recently upheld the defense's right to call Ramzi Binalshibh, a Guantanamo Bay detainee, to the stand. Because the federal government considers Binalshibh a key plotter of the September 11 attacks, they have declined to make him available for reasons of "national security."

The Bush administration is shredding the legal rights of detainees and trying to expand the death penalty in order to further its own political agenda. The military tribunal has been called "an embarrassment to democracy" and a "kangaroo court of the worst sort" by Donald Rehkopf, co-chair of the military committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He's right. That's why we have to build a movement to oppose the death penalty and to demand justice for prisoners at Camp Delta.