U.S. holds first hearings at Guantanamo

The United States is holding its first hearings at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, to decide whether key suspects should be declared ‘enemy combatants’ and therefore face military trials.

Fourteen detainees are due at the secret hearings.  An alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks in the U.S. is among them. 

Five years have passed since the U.S. transferred its first terror suspects to Guantanamo Bay. 385 men are now being held there. According to the Bush administration, they are being held on suspicion of having links to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. 

But ever since they arrived, the military prison has become the target of criticism from human rights organisations. They claim the men are being illegally detained, because none have ever been convicted of any criminal charge.

Since no defence lawyers will be present at the hearings, some feel the hearings will not give the suspects a fair trial.

‘The administration has been almost pathological in trying to find ways to keep these people from seeing a real judge or a real lawyer. And the reason is obvious. One is it seems pretty clear that they've been tortured and the President (George W. Bush) knew that they were being tortured, may have actually ordered their torture through techniques like “water-boarding.”  Second, much of what they have said under torture would not be admissible in any real court of law. So, the government may have succeeded in so undermining any prosecution that they would walk,’ Jonathan Turley, Law Professor from George Washington University, says.

Michael Ratner, the President of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who is also defending one of the detainees, is expected to be called to the hearings. He believes the end result of the tribunal has already been decided.

‘All this, what I call a 'rum court', 'rum secret court' does, is confirm that finding, and it can confirm it with evidence from torture, secret evidence and evidence that the detainee never sees, and, of course, has not right to cross examine because he doesn't have an attorney,’ he states. 

Legal experts believe these secret hearings are to stop allegations of torture being made public – something that could seriously damage the image of the United States.

Some of the suspects are expected to boycott the proceedings, but the U.S. has not released any details. If the men are deemed to be ‘enemy combatants’, they can be held indefinitely and prosecuted by military tribunals.