Not Saussure

April 12, 2007

Due process

Filed under: Law, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 5:10 pm

At last, an encouraging story from the US legal system. A lengthy article by Jesse Bravin in The Wall Street Journal of March 31 (pay per view article, but here’s a link to a mirror of the full piece). It begins,

When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael “Rocks” Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.

“Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands,” Col. Couch says.

But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi’s incriminating statements — the core of the government’s case — had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.

The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government’s objectives and his moral compass.

These kinds of concerns will likely become more prevalent as other high-level al Qaeda detainees come before military commissions set up by the Bush administration. Guantanamo prosecutors estimate that at least 90% of cases depend on statements taken from prisoners, making the credibility of such evidence critical to any convictions. In Mr. Slahi’s case, Col. Couch would uncover evidence the prisoner had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.

Col. Couch, it should be noted, is hardly sympathetic to Mr Slahi and neither is he in any doubt about his guilt; the article concludes,

Col. Couch says he’s still frustrated that the actions of the U.S. government helped ruin the case against Mr. Slahi. “I’m hoping there’s some non-tainted evidence out there that can put the guy in the hole,” he says.

It’s just that, quite rightly, he’s not prepared to convict him on evidence tainted by torture or duress. Members of the ‘decent left‘ (and the present government) please note.

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