August 18, 2010
Federal Judges' Treatment of Coerced Statements in Gitmo Cases
Federal district court judges have ruled against the government in 8 of 15 Guantanamo detainees' habeas cases because of interrogations of detainees and witnesses under "questionable circumstances," ProPublica reports in its latest installment in its ongoing investigation of detention at Guantanamo Bay, The Detention Dilemma.
ProPublica reviewed 31 published decisions involving 52 detainees who claimed they were wrongfully detained. Fifteen of those involved detainee claims that they or witnesses were "forcibly interrogated."
Judges rejected government evidence because of interrogation tactics ranging from verbal abuse threats to physical abuse they called torture. Even in the seven cases the government won, the judges didn't endorse aggressive methods. In six, they decided the detainees' stories of abuse simply weren't credible or were irrelevant to the outcome. In one, the prisoner had repeated self-incriminating statements in military hearings, which the judge viewed as less intimidating than the interrogations he found unacceptable.
And the "clean evidence" strategy doesn't seem to be working:
In most of the cases the government lost, the judges rejected statements even from the "clean" sessions that the Bush administration began administering in 2002 to collect evidence to use in court. The fear prisoners experienced during improper interrogations bled over to corrupt those statements too, the judges said.
The government has now lost 37 of the 53 habeas cases decided. Fifty more cases are pending. And the Obama administration has designated at least 48 of the remaining 176 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention "because they're too dangerous to release but can't be prosecuted successfully in military or civilian court. . . . [C]oercion tainted evidence is one obstacle," according to the report.
This problem explains in part why the government isn't pursuing these cases in criminal courts: "The rules for excluding tainted evidence are stricter in [both civilian and military criminal courts], yet the government's need to marshal evidence is greater."
ProPublica's The Detention Dilemma project includes dozens of other outstanding reports--essential reading for anyone teaching or studying Guantanamo detention. We've posted most recently on detainee habeas cases here and here.
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