Wednesday, 14 March 2007

American justice, Bush-style

When the trial of 14 high-level Guantanamo detainees began behind closed doors last week, their lawyers were barred from entering. Few were surprised. Not only has the Bush administration made it as difficult as possible for lawyers to visit and advise their clients in Guantanamo, it has intimidated and reproached those lawyers who challenge the US government in court.

Take Major Michael Mori. He represents David Hicks, the Australian expected to be the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried by a military commission. When Mori publicly criticised the commission, the chief US military prosecutor rebuked him for "actively inserting himself into the political process," suggesting he had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which forbids using "contemptuous words against the President, the Vice- President and the Secretary of Defence". That
accusation may compromise Mori's ability to represent Hicks and derail the trial.

Or consider Charles Swift, a Navy lawyer who successfully represented a Guantanamo detainee at the Supreme Court. Two weeks later, his status came up for review. Despite being called one of the military's leading lawyers, Swift was denied promotion, ending his career in uniform.

Smearing lawyers because of whom they represent threatens the integrity of the justice system. If lawyers are held accountable for their clients, many will avoid controversial cases. Which was surely the thinking behind recent comments by Charles Stimson, the senior Pentagon official in charge of military detainees.

Criticising law firms that represent Guantanamo detainees, Stimson encouraged the firms' corporate clients to boycott them. He later resigned. But the suspicion remains that, in the 'war on terror', the Bush administration has a vendetta against lawyers who refuse to play by its rules.
The First Post:

I don't think too many of us are surprised by this.