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In January 2009, just two days after he was sworn into office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order. The order declared that the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”
Lawyers and activists sighed in relief; this was the light at the end of the tunnel they had all been hoping for in Obama’s presidency, for the closure
of the ultimate symbol of human rights violations justified under the War on Terror.
Years passed, and Guantanamo remains open. Shutting it proved to be more difficult than Obama initially anticipated. After the mid-term elections, a full-scale transfer of inmates to U.S. soil seemed impossible.
More recently, on 7 March 2011, President Obama lifted the ban on trials by the Military Commission
at Guantanamo. Civil rights group immediately vocalized their opposition. Anthony D. Romero, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, commented:
“The only way to restore the rule of law is to put an end to indefinite detention at Guantánamo and the broken commissions system, and to prosecute terrorism suspects in federal criminal courts. Today’s announcement takes us back a step when we should be moving forward toward closing Guantánamo and ending its shameful policies.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), another prominent civil rights group, released the following statement:
“Barack Obama campaigned and began his presidency with a pledge to shut down Guantánamo, support federal trials for terrorism suspects, respect human rights and restore the rule of law. Guantánamo and the military tribunal system are no longer an inheritance from the Bush administration – they will be President Obama’s legacy.”
In early 2012, the Senate Armed Services Committee pushed through Congress the controversial 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The provisions establish mandatory military custody and adjudication for noncitizens who are determined to be members of Al Qaeda or associated forces, even if they were arrested on U.S. soil. Another provision authorises the indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects who supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces, even if they are American citizens. The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, stating it would be “inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets”, however, they not only failed to secure the veto, but have backed its existence.
Now is a moment of great strategic importance. Where should we direct our energies, in order to ensure that all individuals suspected of terrorism - from those held at Guantanamo Bay, to the people suffering in secret “black sites”, to the accused that are arrested abroad and face extradition to the U.S. - access the fairest form of legal judgment
possible? Is simply struggling to get War on Terror suspects into the federal court system enough?
This report endeavours to provide a comprehensive account of the treatment of terrorism suspects in U.S. federal courts. It documents the systemic human rights abuses and Islamaphobia that pervade the criminal justice
system at every step: prior to indictment; from indictment through conviction; in sentencing; and inside U.S. prisons.
The report was not written with the purpose of advocating for the use of Military Tribunals. Rather, the author of this report intended to document the many barriers that Muslims accused of terrorism face in receiving fair and legal treatment within the federal criminal justice system.