Washington- Trials at Guantanamo Bay for suspects accused of war crimes and attacks against the United States have ground to a near halt a decade after the military courts’ creation, with lawyers warning that some detainees could spend many more years waiting to be tried.
“The military commissions in their current state are a farce,” Marine Brigadier General John Baker, the chief defense counsel, said last month at a Washington legal conference, of the tribunals that prosecute detainees.
“The Guantanamo Bay military commissions have been characterized by delay, government misconduct and incompetence, and more delay.”
For his part, James Connell, a defense lawyer for Kuwaiti Ammar al Baluchi, one of five suspects on trial for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said that trial was not likely until maybe 2020, almost two decades after airline hijackers killed nearly 3,000 people.
Despite President Barack Obama’s early vows to close the facility in eastern Cuba amid charges that suspects had been tortured, the United States continues to spend some $91 million a year on military trials at the base, which has 61 remaining inmates.
Because the court and much of the evidence lies outside the United States, the trial “is 100 times more complex than even a complex ordinary death penalty case,” said Connell.
In contrast with Guantanamo, federal prosecutors operating in U.S. courts have secured more than 340 terrorism convictions over the last decade, a Justice Department spokesman said.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, from Tanzania, was transferred from Guantanamo to New York in 2009, and 17 months later a civilian jury convicted him for his role in al-Qaeda bombings in East Africa. He is serving a life sentence.
Just six Guantanamo cases have resulted in convictions so far, with two guilty verdicts being appealed, according to the military commissions’ website. In one appeals case, a federal court overturned two of the three convictions of Ali Hamza al Bahlul, the suspected publicist for slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. An appeal decision is pending on the third charge.
Pentagon officials defended the pace of proceedings, saying that it takes time to resolve many of the classified documents submitted as evidence.
“The Department of Defense is committed to fairness and transparency in the military commissions proceedings,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Valerie Henderson said in an email.