Debunking a scare campaign: an exchange between a US Senator and his US constituent over the Gitmo trials

By Erica Contini

Like any good citizen, I voice my opinion on issues that are important to me by writing to my elected representatives in congress. Lucky for me, I am a US citizen and therefore have the constitutionally protected right to do just that. Even luckier, I generally think I can do so without having to worry about the Government forces coming to silence me for stating my views.  Do not get me wrong, I realise what a privilege indeed this is.

When the US congress was debating sections 1032/3 of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which would bar using money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for any reason, (in essence striking a blow to the idea of trying those detained in Guantanamo in US civilian courts) I wrote to my Senators urging them to repeal this section of the Act. I feel that those being held in Guantanamo deserved to be tried in civilian courts for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the US has successfully tried terrorists in these courts in the past.

In due course I received a response from the office of Senator Scott Brown, the junior senator for Massachusetts. While I know he is merely spouting the party line, his email sent me into a fit of rage and made me ashamed at how our political leaders can be so obtuse.  His email restated a number of unfounded arguments against allowing the ‘enemy combatants’ being held in Guantanamo to be tried before US civilian courts.

As all engaged citizens do, I responded to his email questioning his baseless opinions.

I have set out Senator Brown’s original email below, unaltered and exactly as it was sent to me.  I want everyone to see the sort of message politicians are sending their constituents. You will see that I have responded to specific sections of his email in turn, mainly the ones that infuriated me the most.

Dear Erica, Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns for the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States for prosecution.  I value your input and appreciate hearing from you.As we continue to combat terrorism around the world and fight extremists on the battlefields in Afghanistan, it is important to have a judicial system in place to bring these suspects to justice.

I completely agree with you. It’s a good thing the US judicial system is so well developed and has handled terrorist trials over the years in its federal courts with no problem and with a great ‘success’ rate of convictions.  For example, the first World Trade Center bomber, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ted Kaczynski, and John Walker Lindh have all been tried and convicted in civilian courts.

However, allowing detainees suspected of supporting terrorist activities to be tried in civilian courts in the United States would jeopardize the security of the city in which the trials were being held.

Can you please explain why exactly why the trial of individuals suspected of supporting terrorist activities would jeopardize the security of the city in which the trials would be held? Are there intelligence reports that tell us that Al Qaeda is planning on attacking a city in which one of its supporters is being tried?  Do you expect these individuals to posses super-human power that will enable them to escape custody while on US soil, making them somehow different from other non-“enemy combatant” defendants?  If that’s the case then Senator Brown please use all resources available to ensure organised crime trials are never held in Boston as I would not want the rest of an organised crime defendant’s affiliates to blow up the city–that really would be a shame.

To me this all sounds like a baseless assertion.

Additionally, civilian trials could award detainees the same rights as U.S. citizens, hindering the government’s ability to bring these enemy combatants to justice.

First things first. The rights protected in the US Constitution apply to everyone in the United States, including foreigners (and therefore the Guantanamo ‘enemy combatants’). Even Justice Scalia, who tends to take a conservative line, agrees that aliens inside the US are guaranteed Constitutional rights.  Likewise in Boumediene v Bush, the Supreme Court held that the habeas corpus provisions of the Constitution had full effect at Guantanamo. It would be absurd to think that other provisions of the Constitution somehow did not apply. As such, these detainees have already been awarded the same rights as U.S. citizens.

Even if we assumed that these rights didn’t already apply to the detainees, why are you so concerned about giving them the same rights? Sure I understand that you should be a citizen before you have the right to vote, but is it really such a horrible thing that the law forbids us from torturing foreigners? Is the right to a fair trail really something we should withhold from aliens?

So, really, If we don’t allow evidence obtained through torture in normal civilian trials due to its inherent unreliability, how then would such evidence be less unreliable when used before a Guantanamo Military Commission? Your assertions here make absolutely no sense.

What about the presumption of innocence?  Evidence shows that many people detained at Guantanamo Bay as ‘enemy combatants’ were innocent individuals with no or merely a cursory connection to terrorism. Why are we just assuming that ALL ‘enemy combatants’ are guilty of being involved with/working for terrorist organizations when that is clearly not the case?

The US has a system for bringing people to justice, but what you really seem to want is to bring these enemy combatants to jail.

To mitigate these concerns, the Guantanamo Military Commission was created to give fair and meaningful trials to unlawful enemy combatants housed at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Fair and meaningful trials? So it’s fair that the accused cannot access all the evidence against them? Or it’s fair to use hearsay or evidence that was obtained through coercion (albeit with limited use)?

Because these dangerous individuals should not be prosecuted in civilian courts, but rather in military tribunals, I objected to allocating $245 million in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to buy and conduct renovations to the Thomson Prison in Illinois for the purpose of holding Guantanamo terror suspects.  On December 22, 2010, the Senate passed the FY 2011 NDAA, which included language that prohibits the Department of Defense from using funds to transfer detainees to the United States for trial.  On January 7, 2011, President Obama signed this legislation into law.

Yes, he did eventually sign the legislation into law, however his signing statement shows that he clearly did not approve of the content of sections 1032/3.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  I will keep your views in mind when the Senate considers related legislation.  Should you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or visit my website at www.scottbrown.senate.gov.

Sincerely,
Scott P. Brown
United States Senator

Senator Brown, from your response, I think you have truly forgotten what it is to be an American and have ignored that principle our founding fathers fought so vigorously for, to be free from government oppression.

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