By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md. – The chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba took exception with defense lawyers’ characterizations of proceedings on the base as being done without the protections of the U.S. Constitution.
Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told a small news conference at the base that the reformed military commissions provide the protections of the U.S. Constitution and will follow the procedures of U.S. federal courts and military courts martials.
“All officials in the federal government have an obligation within their areas of responsibility to help fulfill these requirements, which are among the fundamental guarantees of fairness and justice demanded by our values,” Martins said.
Martins spoke at the conclusion of a hearing on motions made for the trial of alleged Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim Hussein Mohammed Abdu al-Nashiri. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded 39 in Aden, Yemen in October 2000. Al-Nashiri is charged with capital crimes and could be put to death if found guilty. This tinges every decision the commission makes.
Defense motions questioned the prosecution on constitutional grounds, including that the charges violate the equal protection clause, that it was charging him under an ex post facto law, and that it was a bill of attainder. Trial judge Army Col. James Pohl denied all. He further denied a request for all documents given to the defense team be translated into Arabic. There are more than 70,000 pages to date.
The judge granted more time for the defense to present him with a theory of the case, their request for a Yemeni investigator, letters asking for Yemeni evidence and a motion asking for the amount of money and resources the government has expended on this prosecution.
Martins said the scene in the Guantanamo Bay courtroom proved the adversarial nature of American jurisprudence was alive and healthy in the reformed military commissions program.
“Contrary to dark suggestions of some whose minds appear already made up to oppose military commissions regardless of how they are conducted, these protections are implemented by officers, I submit, are worthy of the public trust,” Martins said.
In the news conference, Martins listed the rights Al-Nashiri has. The defendant is innocent until proven guilty. He has the right to present evidence, the right to cross-examine witnesses and compel the appearance of witnesses in his defense. The U.S. government has provided more than $100,000 to fund defense requests, which include a full time investigator, a translator and four lawyers – two military and two civilian.
The al-Nashiri prosecution is complicated, the general said. It is further complicated because the crime was 12 years ago, and in another country. Federal trials have stretched years in similar situations, he said.
“Those who state or imply that what you are seeing here would not happen in the federal systems are simply wrong,” the general said.
The trials at Guantanamo, while few, are important to the United States and to justice, and are worth every penny invested in them, he said.
“Not only must we continue to pursue the truth for the victims of these bombings, but we must also pursue it because that is what justice requires,” he said. “A civilized and open society facing very real and modern security threats can demand no less.”