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Sunday, November 25, 2007

The new Star Chamber 

At Harper's magazine, Scott Horton writes about how Bush is resurrecting the Star Chamber and he uses the Omar Khadr case as one of his examples.
The Star Chamber was a secret security court used by the Tudors and Stuarts, and its abuses were one of the main reasons why the Purtians created the United States 300 years ago. How quickly they forget!
The Bush Administration is slowly introducing the Court of Star Chamber to the process of American justice. We see its elements everywhere. In the farcical Combat Status Review Tribunals created in Guantánamo, now repeatedly denounced even by judges serving on them as a travesty. In the Military Commissions, crafted in conscious avoidance of the standards both of American military and civilian justice. And in the steady press to lower the standards of our federal courts to introduce practices that continually tip the scales of justice in favor of prosecutors. Reports have begun to circulate that the Administration has put together a group of scholars headed by a right-wing activist judge to craft legislation to introduce a new court of Star Chamber, perhaps to be floated in the coming year. . . . in the Bush view of justice, a failure to convict is unacceptable. And which is why the Bush view of justice is no justice at all.
Horton cites the Khadr case as an example of Star Chamber thinking:
Five news organizations, The AP, The New York Times Co., Dow Jones & Company Inc., The Hearst Corp. and The McClatchy Company have filed a complaint stating that they are being denied access to critical information that would allow them to report on the Guantánamo Military Commissions proceeding against Canadian Omar Khadr.
Various arguments in the case of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are apparently made via e-mail — a communications channel to which the public has no access — and issues apparently are being raised in closed sessions for which no transcripts or summaries are available, the news organizations, including The Associated Press, wrote in a filing. In addition, the filing stated, the public is not permitted access to motions and other documents submitted by the parties and “even the existence of a motion is not currently disclosed in any publicly accessible way.”
Khadr is now 21 years of age and has been in prison for five years, since he was 16. He is accused of having committed crimes as a minor. Radkhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, has registered strong complaints about the treatment of Khadr, as have other nations and human rights groups. “She raised her concerns about the creation of an international precedent where an individual is being tried for war crimes with regard to alleged acts committed when he was a child,” said a UN spokesman. There is a view in the international law community that the act of trying a minor as a war criminal is itself a war crime. Not that this would, of course, give the Bush Administration the slightest pause.
Specific charges against Khadr include having lobbed a grenade that killed an American medic in Afghanistan. The US strategy of closely guarding the proceedings and restricting media access to arguments and materials submitted is, however, highly selective. The Department of Defense leaked to CBS News’s “Sixty Minutes” program what prosecutors have long viewed as their “bombshell” evidence: film which they assert shows Khadr involved in insurgent activities in Afghanistan. The Government strategy is that the Government will exercise tight control over what the public learns about the trial and what transpires there. That, of course, was the very abuse against which “Freeborn” John Lilburne railed in his assault on the injustice of the Stuart courts, and the right to an open court is often cited in legal history books as having been established by him, in the middle of the seventeenth century. Which is why the Bush Administration is so much more at home with sixteenth century concept of judicial conduct. But the major issue that critics raise here is not Khadr’s guilt or innocence, but the procedural fairness and transparency of the process by which he is being tried.
As things stand now, whatever results from the trial of Omar Khadr, no serious observers are going to consider them to be fair. So what purpose is served by them? The answer to that question is fairly obvious: domestic political propaganda. This is a political trial, not an exercise in justice.
And successive Canadian governments have gone along with this travesty -- they have not fought for Khadr's rights any more than they originally fought for Mahar Arar.
Now Khadr, along with his family, have to be one of the least sympathetic defendants that Canadians have ever been asked to hold their noses and support.
But that, of course, is not the point
Its not about them, its about us -- are we the kind of people who will tolerate secret trials and endless imprisonment, or not?

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