Foreign Policy Blogs

War crimes charges dropped for bin Laden aid and Canadian at Guantanamo.

2007-06-05_091110.jpgUS military judges at the naval detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, threw out war crimes charges against two high profile detainees yesterday. The cases of Salim Hamdan, bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, and Omar Khadr, a Canadian captured in Afghanistan, were dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. The rulings did not affect the detention of the two individuals, or the 360 suspects being detained at the US naval base. The tribunal system was established last year by Congress after the previous system was ruled unconstitutional in Hamdan's appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hamdan is accused of providing material support to bin Laden and al-Qa'ida. He is also alleged to have received weapons training and transported "one or more SA-7 surface-to-air missiles" to be used against American forces in Afghanistan. Khadr is also charged with conspiracy, as well as murder of a US soldier during combat operations in Afghanistan. Khadr was 15 when he was captured. He would have been the first internationally recognized child soldier to be tried for war crimes.

Hamdan's Supreme Court appeal (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) had mandated Congress to enact legislation that established the current military commission to try detainees for war crimes. According to the legislation , The Military Commissions Act , only those designated as "unlawful enemy combatants" could face war crimes charges before the Guantanamo tribunals. The status of detainees is determined during a combatant status review tribunal, or CSRT's. None of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including Hamdan and Khadr, were designated "unlawful enemy combatants" by the CSRTs, only "enemy combatants." The judges in Khadr and Hamdan dismissed all charges because the suspects were not designated "unlawful enemy combatants" and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to try them.

US Senator Arlen Specter, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, suggested the rulings on Monday may cause Congress to re-examine its decisions regarding detainee status and the tribunal system. Part of the legislation passed by Congress revoked the right to file habeas corpus to contest their detentions. Human rights groups have also weighed in on the rulings. Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying that the decisions "show that Washington's effort to create a parallel justice system in Guantanamo has failed." Amnesty International stated; "At this point, detainees have been more successful committing suicide in Guantanamo than the government has been successful in getting detainees to trial." The White House has not issued a response to the dismissals.

In related news, one man is in custody in New York City and two others are before courts in Trinidad on allegations that they were planning to bomb fuel depots at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. One other suspect remains at large. It is unclear at this why the suspects were not immediately transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against the United States.




Daniel Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer for United Press International covering Iraq, Afghanistan and the broader Levant. He has published works on international and constitutional law pertaining to US terrorism cases and on child soldiers. His first major work, entitled The United States and Israel: The Implications of Alignment, is featured in the text, Strategic Interests in the Middle East: Opposition or Support for US Foreign Policy. He holds a MA in Diplomacy and International Conflict Management from Norwich University, where his focus was international relations theory, international law, and the role of non-state actors.

Areas of Focus:International law; Middle East; Government and Politics; non-state actors