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Bin Laden Driver Salim Hamdan Gets Mixed Verdict in First Military Commission Trial

Widely considered a trial of the military commissions system itself, the Hamdan trial was a two-week exercise in government secrecy and propaganda.
 
 
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A military jury's verdict on Wednesday in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II -- that Yemeni Guantanamo prisoner Salim Hamdan is guilty of material support for terrorism, but not guilty of terrorism itself -- was the culmination of two weeks of proceedings that provided some extraordinary insights into the United States' so-called "War on Terror." And yet, as Jonathan Mahler recently wrote in the New York Times , the lofty ideals of the Nuremberg Trials, which opened with Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson declaring, "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason," were not in evidence during the Hamdan trial. Nor have they been manifested in the verdict.

Instead, the limited number of outside observers attending the military commission trial of Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, witnessed presiding judge Keith Allred -- a principled man in an unenviable position -- struggling to turn a novel legal system unconnected to the laws on which the United States were founded into something resembling a fair trial, one to be respected in legal circles, both in the United States and the wider world. The events of the last two weeks revealed this to be a Herculean task.

Today's military commissions are a modified version of a system conceived in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief counsel, David Addington, and ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions' many critics have remained unconvinced that they can provide an adequate substitute for either U.S. law as practiced on the mainland or the military's own well-established judicial processes. Little, if anything, that has emerged in the last fortnight has helped assuage their doubts. Instead of vindicating Cheney and Addington's belief that a new legal system was required to try "terror suspects," Hamdan's trial revealed a litany of dubious practices masquerading as justice, including a disgraceful use of propaganda, misplaced prosecutorial zeal, the shameful use of hearsay as evidence, abuse of the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and woefully blurred distinctions between valid testimony and coerced testimony. The proceedings also provided observers with piercing insights into the interrogation techniques used in the "War on Terror," which have served only to confirm the supremacy of the agencies that favor kindness and psychological maneuvering over those that favor coercion and brutality.

Two episodes toward the end of the proceedings underscored the commission's failings. In the first, defense testimony from government employees was delivered to a closed court, undermining the essential transparency of the process and tilting perceptions of the trial in favor of the prosecution, whose entire case was conducted in the open. In the second, senior al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though not present in person, delivered a statement dismissing Hamdan as nothing more than a "primitive" man, unequipped to be involved in the planning or execution of terrorist attacks. His statement also managed to further undermine the trial through some acute insights into what he described as fundamental failures of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

A Historic Trial, But Is Anyone Watching?

Despite the supposed significance of the Hamdan case, Mahler noted in the Times that the proceedings "hardly have the feel of history in the making."

They haven't merited much discussion in the presidential campaign; nor are we (as) a nation riveted by the trial of the first defendant. … Instead of a landmark case, one that serves as a resonant reminder of the gulf separating us from our enemies, we have detachment and ambiguity -- not just about the extent of Hamdan's guilt but also about the wisdom of the entire tribunal process as well as many other aspects of the prosecution of the war on terror.

These are valid points, and although the detachment Mahler refers to can partly be explained by a general hollowing-out of political awareness (in which a prurient obsession with the peccadilloes of celebrities has taken root instead), part of people's detachment -- and the ambiguity -- can be explained by the disconnect between the supposed importance of the trial and the reality of the figure at its heart.

Although Salim Hamdan was a driver for Osama bin Laden, he and his defense team have always maintained that the Yemeni father of two, who has only a fourth-grade education, was nothing more than a hired worker -- one of seven drivers in total. According to his attorney, he was not privy to the inner secrets of al Qaeda and had no knowledge of or involvement in the attacks -- on the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, on the USS Cole in 2000, and on the U.S. mainland in 2001 -- that are the purported justification for the entire military commission system.

Even the prosecution did not attempt to insist that Hamdan was a major player. "We never put a rank on him," Col. Lawrence Morris, the commission's chief prosecutor, explained to reporters. "We never suggested he was in the top 17 or the top any-teen of al Qaeda. I don't want … to have anybody have us appear to be asserting that he's more responsible than he is or that he's higher-ranking than he is." Morris' opinions were supported by the testimony of various agents over the course of the two-week hearing. FBI agent Craig Donnachie, for example, explained that Hamdan told him that he "had no interest in fighting after completing his time" at a training camp in Afghanistan, and when defense lawyers asked Donnachie if Hamdan had committed "to engage in terrorist acts," the agent replied, "He did not."

Thus, as a landmark case, Hamdan's trial lacked the punch required to grab the attention of the nation, and is, at some level, equivalent to trying Adolf Hitler's driver in the Nuremberg Trials in the absence of the Fuehrer himself. And the entire setup becomes even murkier upon a close examination of the reasons for putting Hamdan forward at all.

Testing the System and Concealing Torture

While the commission's most significant defendants -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other prisoners accused of direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks -- wait in the wings, it's clear that Hamdan was put forward first for two very specific reasons, neither of which cast a good light on the process.

The first is that he is being used as a guinea pig to test whether the system actually works. The second is that he is presumed to be relatively "clean" -- in other words, that he has not been subjected to the torture inflicted on the "high-value detainees," including KSM and his alleged co-conspirators. The administration not only denies that it has been involved in torture, but also denies that waterboarding (the now notorious technique to which KSM and others were subjected, as admitted by CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden), is actually torture. When it comes to putting these men on trial, however, the government's refusal to start the proceedings with KSM and his fellow defendants serves only to confirm that legally (if not morally), they are aware that they are on shaky ground.

Neither approach was entirely successful in Hamdan's case. Observers understand that, along with Hamdan, the entire system is on trial, as William Glaberson of the New York Times described on July 29. "Mr. Hamdan's trial is, in a sense, two trials," he wrote. "Mr. Hamdan is being tried on accusations of conspiracy and material support of terrorism. And the Bush administration's military commission system itself is on trial."

Nor did the second ploy -- denying torture -- proceed smoothly. Only one of the 20 prisoners so far put forward for trial by military commission, an Afghan called Mohammed Hashim, has resisted mentioning that he was subjected to either torture or coercion, but he appears to be nothing more than a deluded fantasist who should never be on trial at all.

Voluntary vs. Coerced Testimony: Blurring the Lines

Allegations of severe mistreatment have dogged the Hamdan case since his pre-trial proceedings, during which his defense counsel hired an expert to examine his mental state. The conclusion was that prolonged isolation had led to a situation whereby he "met diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression," including "nightmares, intrusive thoughts, memories and images, amnesia for details of traumatic events, lack of future orientation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, poor concentration and memory, exaggerated startle responses and hypervigilance." Recent weeks revealed that he was subjected to sexual humiliation during interrogations and a systematic policy of sleep deprivation, in which he was repeatedly moved from cell to cell and prevented from sleeping for a period of 50 days.

As the trial began, Allred was required to interpret the horribly blurred distinctions between voluntary and coerced testimony that were written into the Military Commissions Act (the legislation that revived the commissions after the Supreme Court struck them down in June 2006). The MCA permits coerced evidence and hearsay, as long as a judge considers them to be "reliable" and "probative." Allred confirmed that Hamdan had indeed been subjected to legally dubious treatment and ruled out the use of any testimony obtained by authorities while he was held in Afghanistan following his capture, both at the U.S.-run prison at Bagram, and, as had never previously been disclosed, at an Afghan prison in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul. The Panjshir prison was one of several prisons in which, as revealed in The Guantanamo Files , numerous "ghost prisoners" who ended up in Bagram were subjected to what one of the prison's captives, a Libyan who escaped from Bagram in July 2005, later described as "hard torture."

In response to Hamdan's complaints that, at Bagram, he was "kept in isolation 24 hours a day with his hands and feet restrained, and armed soldiers prompted him to talk by kneeing him in the back," and his additional complaints that, in the Panjshir prison, his captors "repeatedly tied him up, put a bag over his head and knocked him to the ground," Allred ruled out the use of statements obtained from the interrogations because of the "highly coercive environments and conditions under which they were made."

This was not a good start for the prosecution. But while it underscored how vague the parameters are for acceptable evidence (making the judge the sole arbiter of the matter), Allred added that he saw no problem admitting other statements that Hamdan had made while he was held in other locations in Afghanistan and throughout his imprisonment at Guantanamo. Even so, the prosecution complained. "We need to evaluate … to what extent it has an impact on our ability to fully portray his criminality in this case, but also what it might set out for future cases," Morris explained.

Shredding the Fifth Amendment

In the meantime, Hamdan's defense team took the offensive. Michael Berrigan, the deputy chief defense counsel, described the judge's decision as "a very significant ruling" because the prosecutions "are built to make full advantage of statements obtained from detainees." The defense team immediately asked Allred to throw out all of Hamdan's interrogations, arguing that, while at Guantanamo, he had incriminated himself under abusive conditions, including prolonged sleep deprivation and solitary confinement, and that any statements he had made were an infringement of his Fifth Amendment rights.

The appeal was denied by Allred, who declared that constitutional protections against self-incrimination do not apply to "enemy combatants." This led the case into different, contentious territory, in which Guantanamo's purpose as an interrogation camp was explicitly revealed (in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the interrogation of prisoners seized in wartime, whether coercively or not), and the administration was obliged to reveal far more than it might have wished about the nature of its interrogations.

"Guantanamo Bay Is an Intelligence Collection Point"

This part of the trial kicked off with an explosive revelation by the former FBI interrogator and "al Qaeda expert" Ali Soufan, who explained on the second day that Guantanamo, as the Associated Press described it, "is the only place in the world where he has not informed suspects of a right against self-incrimination." "The way it was explained to us," Soufan said, "is Guantanamo Bay is an intelligence collection point."

This was an enormously significant statement, as the prison's true -- and illegal -- purpose is officially, as once described by Donald Rumsfeld, to keep "committed terrorists … off the street and out of the airlines and out of nuclear power plants and out of ports across this country and across other countries." Defenders of the so-called "War on Terror" argue that the flight from domestic and international law is necessary to fight the greatest threat the world has ever known -- hence the rather inflated Nuremberg analogies. But in reality, the administration's behavior has not only undermined the reputation of the United States; it has also, as Hamdan's self-incrimination specifically shows, led to a surreal situation in which those who cooperate with their interrogators are punished for their cooperation.

As the Los Angeles Times explained, "A parade of intelligence witnesses" described Hamdan as "cooperative, cordial and a source of reliable information about the terrorist hierarchy," who "drew maps to al Qaeda training camps and compounds for his captors," and "guided FBI and military intelligence agents to bin Laden's private residences and guest houses and identified photos of terrorist kingpins still at large" while in custody in Afghanistan. At Guantanamo, moreover, he reportedly provided "vital information" about "key perpetrators" of the terrorist attacks in 1998, 2000 and 2001. Ammar Y. Barghouty, an FBI agent, explained that Hamdan's identification of the Saudi "high-value detainee" Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of directing the attack on the USS Cole, together with "his willingness to testify against him," provided the government with "a solid basis to prosecute the Saudi."

Revelations About Interrogation Techniques

As these revelations were rolled out, Hamdan's treatment -- and by extension the treatment of "enemy combatants" in general -- inadvertently came under close scrutiny. Of particular interest was the testimony of FBI special agent George Crouch, who interrogated Hamdan at Guantanamo for 13 days in June 2002. Favoring the old-school approach to interrogation that focused on rapport-building rather than brute force, Crouch explained how he "built a trusting relationship with Hamdan during the marathon interrogation, bringing him special snacks and working to ease his 'concerns.'"

"Mr. Hamdan commented that he liked McDonald's fries, and we brought fries in," Crouch said. Complaining, as Reuters put it, that Hamdan "grew upset and uncooperative when he was put in solitary confinement amid a series of interrogations, prompting a heated complaint by Crouch to military guards," the FBI agent then explained that, on another occasion, "Hamdan's mood lifted when he was allowed to call and tell his wife that he was alive." "Mr. Hamdan cried quite a bit," Crouch said. "He was very grateful for the opportunity to speak to his wife. A burden had been lifted from him. At least his wife knew he was alive."

In contrast to Crouch's approach to interrogations, other agencies favored harsher methods, although no evidence was provided that they were more effective. Disturbingly, the activities of the CIA were declared off-limits during the trial, as were the CIA's interrogations in Afghanistan. Although Crouch said he successfully prevented Hamdan from being kept in solitary confinement between his visits, the Los Angeles Times reported that he was "unaware … that during the night Hamdan was also brought to interrogators of another U.S. agency," whose identity was not revealed, under what was described, with some accuracy, as the court's "secrecy practices."

Like other witnesses, Crouch admitted that Hamdan was not protected by the Fifth Amendment, although he maintained that he was not happy about it. ("I would have read him his rights," he said.) He insisted, however, that although Hamdan played only a small supporting role in al Qaeda, it was still significant. "Without people like Mr. Hamdan, bin Laden would enjoy no support, he would not enjoy protection, and he probably would not have been able to elude capture up to this point," he said. Even so, Crouch reserved one last gesture of kindness toward Hamdan, admitting, "I don't know if I ever thanked him."

What went largely undiscussed, however, was the impact of Hamdan's self-incrimination. Harry Schneider, one of Hamdan's lawyers, asked Crouch during cross-examination, "Did anyone ever say, 'You've got to understand, somebody can use this against you?'" but Crouch said he "did not remember," and it was left to the defense to point out to both the jury and the agents the absurd situation whereby, in contrast to the case that a cooperative Hamdan had built up against himself, "the head of bin Laden's bodyguards -- Hamdan's boss -- and an al Qaeda errand boy arrested along with Hamdan," who had "refused to cooperate with U.S. interrogators during their time at Guantanamo … were eventually released without being charged." As Ben Wizer, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, explained, "It's perverse that the only person who agreed to cooperate is being hung with his own words, while those who stayed silent are home and free."

In addition, no one mentioned a disturbing corollary: that, by prosecuting a witness who has been so cooperative, the administration very possibly fatally undermined its intelligence agencies' ability to secure the services of former insiders in terrorist organizations who are prepared to reveal all they know in exchange for protection.

Jack Cloonan, a former FBI special agent who worked closely with former al Qaeda insider Jamal al-Fadi in the years before 9/11, appreciated that brutality ("all that alpha-male shit," in fellow agent Dan Coleman's words) was useless in building a sustained and useful relationship with prisoners possessing genuinely significant intelligence. "You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us?" he asked. "That's why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music and dogs."

Shameless Propaganda

During the first week's proceedings, as Julia Hall of Human Rights Watch reported for Salon.com, the prosecution showed two videos taken shortly after Hamdan's capture in Afghanistan, which were "harrowing both for what they depict and for the fact that they were admitted into evidence at all." Hall wrote that they "show Hamdan slumped on the floor, hooded and shackled, as he is badgered by his Arabic-speaking military interrogator in a dark room with one dim light bulb overhead. An armed soldier is behind Hamdan, the interrogator in front." She added, "There is a sickening sense in watching that Hamdan -- visibly scared -- is searching for the right words to appease the interrogator, trying out ideas as they occur to him in an attempt to avoid more abuse."

While Hall noted that Allred had overruled the defense team's objection to the tapes being shown, deciding that they were "in the interests of justice," she also pointed out that the Pentagon was not prepared to release the tapes to the general public, citing a Pentagon source who said that they were being withheld out of an "abundance of caution." "Perhaps," she mused, "the DoD fears that the American public will know a coercive interrogation when it sees one."

At the start of the trial's second week, as if to compensate for the mixed messages in the "capture tapes," the prosecution returned with a slice of pure propaganda: "The Al-Qaeda Plan," a film modeled on "The Nazi Plan," produced for the Nuremberg Trials, and which was written, produced and narrated by "international terrorism consultant" Evan F. Kohlmann. (Kohlmann was paid $20,000 to produce the film, and another $25,000 to appear as an "expert witness.") The film was described by the Los Angeles Times as "a graphic 90-minute film chronicling the history of al Qaeda," including "footage of mangled corpses in the rubble of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya." Despite Allred's assertion to the jury that it was being screened in order "to provide an understanding of al Qaeda operations" and that Hamdan was "not alleged to have been involved in any of these attacks," the film caused an uproar in the courtroom. Defense attorney Charles Swift complained vociferously, describing the film as "extraordinarily prejudicial" and accusing the prosecution of "trying to terrorize" the jury. Morris responded, bizarrely, by claiming, "It is prejudicial, which is why we show it," adding, "I think people think prejudicial is somehow wrong." The showing of the film was clearly nothing more than a propaganda exercise, much like the irrelevant footage of Osama bin Laden shown last summer at the propaganda-fueled trial of U.S. "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla.

A Tainted Confession

The next few days demonstrated yet again that the commission judges have, to some extent, been empowered to invent the rules as they go along. Allred decided to penalize the prosecution as they finished presenting evidence, by preventing them from using what was described as "the most complete summary of evidence against Hamdan," compiled by Ali Soufan and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) in May 2003. This denial was a penalty for the prosecution's delay in handing over 1,200 pages of documents relating to Hamdan's interrogations to the defense team. (Despite repeated requests for the documents, the prosecution had waited until the night before the trial began to release them, leaving little opportunity to search through the records for evidence of Hamdan's abuse.) But the next day, vacillating yet again, Allred allowed the prosecution to present its evidence after all, while insisting that he would use a "higher standard" to evaluate it and saying that the prosecutors would have to provide "clear and convincing evidence" that Hamdan's statements were not obtained through coercion. Whether the judge remained true to his word or not is a moot point; When McFadden took the stand, he declared that Hamdan had told him that he had sworn bayat (pledged an oath of loyalty) to bin Laden, even though no other interrogator had managed to secure such a confession.

Hamdan, upon taking the stand, denied that he had said any such thing. According to the Los Angeles Times , "he insisted that he had spoken only with Soufan during the more-than-nine-hour interview and that despite Soufan's persistent questioning on the subject, he had never told him about swearing allegiance." Hoping to capitalize on what appeared to be a key piece of evidence, lead prosecutor John Murphy then told the judge that allegations of coercion had "cast a black cloud over these agents and those who work with the detainees" and suggested that McFadden's testimony would "dispel that taint." This prompted defense lawyer Michael Berrigan to call the day's proceedings "a farce," saying that the true "black cloud" was "the government's own creation," which it had manufactured through the use of coercion.

Silencing the Defense

When the defense team finally got the chance to present its case, Brian Glyn Williams, a professor of Islamic history, attempted to explain Afghanistan's history to the jury, focusing on the differences between what he described as "two largely separate al Qaeda missions: supporting Islamic warriors and committing terrorist acts against enemy foreign states." Echoing the words of FBI agent Donnachie, Williams said Hamdan was recruited for a support role "because he lacked the will for carrying out attacks," and, moreover, was incapable of assuming a role as an international terrorist. "I don't see him being that quality of material," he said.

After this intriguing start, most of the rest of the defense's case took place behind closed doors. This included testimony from Lt. Col. G. John Taylor and Col. L. Morgan Banks III, the senior psychologist in the military's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program, which subjects soldiers to torture in order to train them to resist interrogation by enemy agents (and which is widely regarded as the model for the brutality and humiliation to which "War on Terror" prisoners have been subjected). The secrecy was, naturally, criticized by the defense team. "It is not the defense that has requested this closed session, but it is necessary, according to the government, to protect the information," said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, Hamdan's military lawyer, who added pointedly, "It is my hope that the American public will someday hear Mr. Hamdan's defense."

Exactly what kind of state secrets Taylor and Banks were supposed to be protecting is, of course, unknown, but a defense statement revealed that they were called to testify because they had served with U.S. Special Forces when Hamdan arrived at Bagram on Dec. 28, 2001. This suggests that the court was closed because their testimony would include evidence that revealed the "coercion" that Allred was responsible for monitoring throughout the trial.

In fact, this imposition of secrecy interfered with much of the defense's case. For example, when Hamdan's lawyers appealed to Allred for McFadden's testimony to be excluded, citing references to Hamdan's abuse at the time, almost all of the judge's ruling (in McFadden's favor) was blacked out. But the most ludicrous example of censorship occurred during the cross-examination of McFadden, when attorney Harry Schneider Jr. wanted to ask the agent a question based on a book that he held up in the courtroom. After some discussions with the prosecution, Schneider admitted, "I'm told it's classified, so I can't ask you," even though the book was the best-seller, The 9/11 Commission Report .

"No court, civilian or military, has credibility when it listens to secret evidence in a closed courtroom," Lou Fisher, the author of a book about the 1942 military trial of eight alleged Nazi saboteurs, told the Washington Post . And Stacy Sullivan of Human Rights Watch, who was excluded from the courtroom during the secret testimony, declared, "The reason closed sessions are so troubling at Guantanamo is because the government has so frequently claimed things have had to be classified to cover up abuse and torture. In addition, trials of this magnitude should have a public record. If a significant amount of evidence and witness testimony is classified, it will be very hard to trust any verdict."

The Damaging Testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The Hamdan trial ended, as it had begun, controversially. In a 16-page written submission, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed during his administrative tribunal at Guantanamo last year that he was "responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z," delivered a defense of Hamdan that managed to be both patronizing to Hamdan himself and witheringly critical of the U.S. administration's pursuit of his prosecution.

Describing himself as "the executive director of 9/11," KSM wrote, "He did not play any role. He was not a soldier, he was a driver. His nature was more primitive (Bedouin) person and far from civilization. He was not fit to plan or execute."

While this description corresponded with the defense team's analysis of Hamdan's role, it was unclear if the jury would be prepared to accept KSM's opinions, especially as, elsewhere in his statement, he railed against the administration as a whole. "We are not gangs," he wrote. "As the American Army (we) have drivers, cooks, crewmen and legal personnel. We also are human beings. … We have interests in life. Our people have wives and children and schools. … You can not understand terrorism and al Qaeda from 9/11 operation."

Addressing the question of how far culpability for al Qaeda's terrorist attacks could extend beyond the core leadership, KSM added: "One of the reasons for the success of the outside operations is the secrecy of the operations. So many of (bin Laden's) inner circles have no knowledge of what he was planning, and so many of al Qaeda's members and even the trainers at the military camps do not have any knowledge of the works of the outside cells. That includes the civilian employees." Anyone who thinks that everyone involved in al Qaeda was also involved in terror attacks, he said, "is a fool."

The Impossibility of Escape

With that -- and following muted testimony from Walid bin Attash, another "high-value detainee" who maintained that Hamdan "did not play any part in any planning" -- the trial came to an end. As the jury retired to consider its verdict, the last of many "black clouds" to hang over the trial concerned Salim Hamdan's fate, regardless of whether he was found guilty or not.

Guantanamo's new commander, Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, admitted that he had not yet worked out what would happen if Hamdan were found guilty. Under the commission rules, those convicted are required to be held separately from the rest of the prison's population, raising the prospect that Hamdan could be held in complete isolation for the rest of his life. "Asked how Hamdan could be separated but not isolated," as Reuters described it, Thomas admitted, blithely, "It's a great question. I'm not faced with it yet. We've thought that through, and we have plans to accommodate, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."

Just as disturbing, however, is what would have happened had Hamdan been found innocent. As Rumsfeld explained in March 2002, even if an "enemy combatant" is acquitted after a trial by military commission, "the United States would be irresponsible not to continue to detain them until the conflict is over." What is particularly distressing about this, of course, is not just that the administration believes that the "War on Terror" may last for generations, but that it can so brazenly state that it can hold men forever, even if they are found innocent after a trial.

As Berrigan explained, the mere possibility that the administration will hold men forever, even after their acquittal, reveals that the commissions are nothing more than "show trials," as their critics have long maintained. Speaking to the Associated Press, Berrigan said, "What's the purpose here? Mr. Hamdan is going to be held until the government wants to release him. It really has no connection to the underlying reality."

Or, he could have added, to any notions of justice.

Andy Worthington is a writer and historian, and the author of The Guantanamo Files .