April 4th, 2008 05:49 EST
ACLU and others will defend Guant"namo detainees
There are times in this country when we find ourselves at a crossroads -- where the path we choose has the potential to define us as a nation for generations to come.
No doubt we`ve been at a critical juncture since September 11. How we respond to the atrocities thrust upon us after that terrible day says everything about who we are as Americans -- what values we defend, how the world sees us, and how history will remember us.
The manner in which we seek justice against those accused of harming us will determine whether the United States will be seen at home and abroad as a nation of laws. We must decide whether we live the values of justice that make us proud to be Americans, or whether we will forsake those values and continue down a path of arbitrary rules and procedures more befitting those who are our enemies. Because we are a great nation, true to our founders` vision, we must uphold our core values even in the toughest of times. The right to a speedy trial in a court of law before an objective arbiter; the right to due process; the right to rebut the evidence against you; the right not to be tortured or waterboarded, or convicted on the basis of hearsay evidence are what truly define America and our commitment to the rule of law and our founders` aspirations.
The military commissions set up by the Bush administration for the men imprisoned at Guant"namo Bay -- including those it suspects were involved in the September 11 attacks -- are not true American justice. These trials should represent who we are, what America stands for, and our commitment to due process. They are not about how civilized the accused are, but how civilized we are. America does not stand for trials that rely on torture to gain confessions, or on secret evidence that a defendant cannot rebut, or on hearsay evidence.
For these reasons, the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have taken on the task of assembling defense teams to be available to assist in the representation of those Guant"namo detainees who have been charged under the Military Commissions Act, subject to the detainees` consent.
We take this step because we simply cannot stand by and allow the Bush administration`s military commissions to make a mockery of our Constitution and our values. We believe in the American justice system -- despite its imperfections and distortions by pundits, politicians and ideologues -- and we believe we can make the system stronger by engaging it and fighting for what is right, fighting for fair trials and for America`s reputation.
It is when the stakes are the highest and when tempers run the hottest that we must work doubly hard to keep a check on our government and prevent it from trading in our values for visceral and political motives -- no matter what the motivation. It is during the most challenging situations that our country`s values are most intensely tested, and along with them, the ACLU`s commitment to its core principles. We are determined, as we have always been, to meet this challenge.