Landmark hearings

THE US Supreme Court has begun hearing a case on the legality of the military trials at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. The tribunals, set up to try hundreds of detainees at the Camp X-ray as enemy combatants, have come under fire from human rights groups calling for trying the detainees in US civilian courts.

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Published: Thu 30 Mar 2006, 9:41 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:18 PM

At the centre of this controversy is detainee Salim Abdul Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver, who says he was just a driver and not an Al Qaeda plotter. Salim‘s lawyers say the tribunals are unconstitutional and legal experts say a potential landmark ruling against the trials would curb the expanded powers of prosecutors in punishing suspected terrorists. Whatever be the outcome of the case, the debate surrounding it is a healthy sign of a powerful democracy. This case should be a perfect example for nations and rulers who do not practise democracy. For that reason alone, dispossessed people would wish that the case turns in Hamdan’s favour. This case has generated so much heat that it is seen as one of the most important cases to come up before the US Supreme Court since 9/11.

Efforts by the White House to get the Supreme Court to drop the case have been rebuffed by the judges, who believe this is an issue they should at least consider. While Hamdan’s lawyers say the commissions and trials breach the 1949 Geneva Convention, the Bush administration says the conventions do not apply to Al Qaeda members. The Hamdan case has also forced Chief Justice John Roberts to remove himself from the appeals court panel. Now, if the citizens of a free democracy do not try hard enough to see that people power wins, it will be extremely disappointing to those who lay store by the values of democracy, as they could be faced with questions over how such a democracy could be different from a dictatorship. And that would indeed be sad.



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