US legal adviser addresses Guantanamo 'myths'
12 Otober 2006, Berlin (dpa) - Top US government legal adviser John B. Bellinger tried Thursday to clear up what he termed "myths and misperceptions" among Europeans about the US war on terrorism.
12 Otober 2006
Berlin (dpa) - Top US government legal adviser John B. Bellinger tried Thursday to clear up what he termed "myths and misperceptions" among Europeans about the US war on terrorism.
Speaking at a discussion in Berlin organised by the American Academy, Bellinger - legal adviser to the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - said he was concerned about how the approach of US President George Bush's administration to dealing with al-Qaeda was being perceived in Europe.
"A whole variety of myths and misperceptions have grown up about US policies (and) our legal positions, particularly in respect to detainees," he said.
"Part of that is our own fault. We have not done a good job over the previous few years in trying to get out and talk to our friends and our allies, to talk through these very, very difficult issues, (and) explain the positions we have taken."
The status of the US conflict with al-Qaeda was that "we have been, and continue to be, in a legal state of war with al-Qaeda. Al- Qaeda has declared war against us specifically."
He stressed that coalition forces in Afghanistan were authorised by a United Nations Security Council resolution to use force to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This included authority to detain individuals, he said.
"We tried very carefully to screen the people who we picked up," he said. "We have held those people, which we think we have a right to do as in any armed conflict, and to hold them until the end of those hostilities."
He said detainees had been removed from Afghanistan to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on Cuba because of the difficulties of returning combatants to their home countries.
He insisted the Bush administration was not violating the Geneva Conventions, because al-Qaeda was not a party to the Conventions.
Addressing allegations that the US administration had deliberately exploited gaps in the law to hold detainees, he said: "We have not put them into a legal black hole.
"I would say that al-Qaeda and the Taliban, by fighting in an illegal way against our civilians, in fact fall outside the normal legal frameworks."
He confirmed Bush's statement, made during a September 6 speech on detainee policy, that all detainees held at secret CIA prisons had been brought to Guantanamo Bay.
"I've seen allegations recently that we may be still holding others. That's not true," he said. "All of the individuals who have been held in classified locations and questioned were brought to Guantanamo where they have ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) access."
He discussed new legislation on military commissions for trying detainees, which was passed by the US Congress last month.
"It was necessary because the Supreme Court ... said that military commissions cannot go forward unless there is a proper legislative basis provided by Congress," he said.
The new military commission legislation "creates entirely fair trials with basic rights that are in many cases almost identical to what we do have in our criminal trials, and are identical to what we have in our court-martials."
The original proposal to use secret evidence against detainees had been changed in the new legislation. "If we try someone in one of the military commissions, the accused will have the right to be present at all times during his trial," he said. "He and his attorney will be able to hear all the evidence that is presented against him."
In another major change, there was now an appeal mechanism from the military commission into the US federal courts "all the way up to our Supreme Court", as opposed to the original plan for an appeal mechanism entirely within the executive branch.
Bush would sign the military commission legislation next Tuesday. "We hope that will allow the military commission trials finally to go forward and that we can move forward with trials of individuals in Guantanamo," Bellinger said.
"Overall we feel that there's been enormous evolution in our laws in our policies in our procedures as we have moved forward," he added. "There was no book on the shelf for us to look to after September 11 in having to deal with members of al-Qaeda."
Subject: German news