Leading Civil Liberties and Human Rights Organizations Urge Obama Not to Create On-Shore Guantanamo System

Groups' Letter To President-elect Calls For Return To American Justice System When Prison Camp Is Closed NEW YORK , Dec. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Four leading civil liberties and human rights organizations today urged President-elect Obama...


Groups' Letter To President-elect Calls For Return To American Justice System When Prison Camp Is Closed

NEW YORK , Dec. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Four leading civil liberties and human rights organizations today urged President-elect Obama to implement "an unqualified return to America's established system of justice for detaining and prosecuting suspects" when he fulfills his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and military commissions. In a letter delivered to the presidential transition team, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch state that they "categorically oppose the creation of any other ad-hoc illegal detention system or 'third way' that permits the executive branch to suspend due process and hold suspected terrorists without charge or trial, essentially moving Guantanamo on-shore."

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear President-elect Obama:

As heads of four prominent civil liberties and human rights organizations, we wish to convey our uniform position on the steps we believe should be taken once you fulfill your pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Our groups firmly advocate an unqualified return to America's established system of justice for detaining and prosecuting suspects. We categorically oppose the creation of any other ad-hoc illegal detention system or "third way" that permits the executive branch to suspend due process and hold suspected terrorists without charge or trial, essentially moving Guantanamo on-shore.

As you know, the Geneva Conventions allow for the detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield until the cessation of international armed conflict. But what is new -- and altogether radical -- is the notion that a wartime detention model can be applied to something as amorphous as a "war on terror" that lacks a definable enemy, geographical boundary, or the prospect of ending anytime soon. If a conflict exists everywhere and forever, empowering the government to detain combatants until the end of hostilities takes on a whole new and deeply disturbing meaning.

We are confident that when you take office, you will immediately set a date certain for closing Guantanamo. The new Justice Department should conduct a fresh review of all detainee records to determine whether there is legitimate evidence of criminal activity. Where there is not, detainees should be repatriated to their home countries for trial or release. If there is a risk of torture or abuse in their home countries, they should be transferred to third countries that will accept them or admitted to the United States .

Where evidence of criminal activity does exist, detainees should be prosecuted in traditional federal courts. Contrary to the views of proponents of detention without trial who argue that America's existing courts can't handle terrorism prosecutions, the United States justice system has a long history of handling terrorism cases without compromising fundamental rights of defendants while accommodating sensitive national security issues. In fact, a recent analysis of more than 100 successfully prosecuted international terrorism cases conducted by two former federal prosecutors for Human Rights First found that "the justice system ... continues to evolve to meet the challenge terrorism cases pose." Our courts have proven that they can handle sensitive evidence. The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) outlines a comprehensive set of procedures for federal criminal cases involving classified information. Applying CIPA over the years, courts have successfully balanced the need to protect national security information, including the sources and means of intelligence gathering, with defendants' fair trial rights.

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