Monday, June 8, 2009

9/11 Detainees May Be Permitted to Plead Guilty

The NYT reports that the Obama administration is considering a change in the law for the military commissions at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that would allow detainees facing the death penalty to plead guilty without a full trial.

The provision could permit military prosecutors to avoid airing the details of brutal interrogation techniques. It could also allow the five detainees who have been charged with the Sept. 11 attacks to achieve their stated goal of pleading guilty to gain what they have called martyrdom.

The proposal, in a draft of legislation that would be submitted to Congress, has not been publicly disclosed. It was circulated to officials under restrictions requiring secrecy. People who have read or been briefed on it said it had been presented to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates by an administration task force on detention. . . .

The proposal would ease what has come to be recognized as the government’s difficult task of prosecuting men who have confessed to terrorism but whose cases present challenges. Much of the evidence against the men accused in the Sept. 11 case, as well as against other detainees, is believed to have come from confessions they gave during intense interrogations at secret C.I.A. prisons. In any proceeding, the reliability of those statements would be challenged, making trials difficult and drawing new political pressure over detainee treatment. . . .

The provision would follow a recommendation of military prosecutors to clarify what they view as an oversight in the 2006 law that created the commissions. The law did not make clear if guilty pleas would be permitted in capital cases. Federal civilian courts and courts in most states with capital-punishment laws permit such pleas.

But American military justice law, which is the model for the military commission rules, bars members of the armed services who are facing capital charges from pleading guilty. Partly to assure fairness when execution is possible, court-martial prosecutors are required to prove guilt in a trial even against service members who want to plead guilty.

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