September 11 Attacks: Crimes Against Humanity
The Aftermath

The Proposed U.S. Military Commissions

Under President Bush's November 13th Military Order on military commissions, any foreign national designated by the President as a suspected terrorist or as aiding terrorists could potentially be arrested, tried, convicted and even executed without a public trial, without adequate access to counsel, without the presumption of innocence or even proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and without the right to judicial appeal.
    Take Action Now!
    The Department of Defense is now drafting the rules that will implement the President's order authorizing military commissions to try suspected terrorists. Please send letters to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urging him to ensure the commissions provide defendants with full due process protections.
    December 18, 2001

    U.S.: Commission Rules Meet Some, Not All, Rights Concerns
    The Defense Department's new rules for military commissions include important due process protections, Human Rights Watch said today. The rules nevertheless fail to meet the core human rights requirement of appellate review by an independent and impartial court, or to meet the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. They also leave intact the sweeping military jurisdiction over non-citizens contained in President Bush's November 13 order authorizing military trial of suspected terrorists.
    March 21, 2002

    Court-Martial Code Offers a Fair Way to Try Terrorist Suspects
    If you listened to the talking heads on U.S. television, you would think that the United States has only two choices for prosecuting accused Qaida terrorists: either summary trials under President George W. Bush's order for military commissions that would allow the government to convict and execute suspects with no presumption of innocence, no need to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt and no right to appeal; or O.J. Simpson-style legal circuses with cameras in the courtroom, huge pressure on frightened jurors and evidence being thrown out because the Special Forces didn't read the suspects their Miranda rights.
    Published, December 29, 2001 in International Herald Tribune

    U.S.: Use Courts-Martial Rules for Military Commissions
    In a letter released today, Human Rights Watch urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to draw on basic standards of U.S. military justice to address serious flaws in the President's order establishing military commissions.
    December 18, 2001

    Letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense on Military Commissions
    Dear Secretary Rumsfeld, We are writing to urge you to ensure that the rules and procedures governing military commissions authorized by the President's order of November 13 fully honor the fair trial guarantees mandated by international human rights law and found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
    December 17, 2001

    Due Process Protections Afforded Defendants: A Comparison between the Proposed U.S. Military Commissions and U.S. General Courts-Martial
    December 17, 2001

    Military Commissions Can't Compare to International Courts
    Judicial standards permitted by a new presidential order on military commissions would be significantly lower than those at war-crimes courts established by the United Nations, although the U.S. administration has claimed they are similar.
    December 4, 2001

    Due Process Protections Afforded Defendants: A Comparison between the Proposed U.S. Military Commissions and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
    December 4, 2001

    Fact Sheet: Past U.S. Criticism of Military Tribunals
    The U.S. State Department has repeatedly criticized the use of military tribunals to try civilians and other similar limitations on due process around the world. Indeed, its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices evaluate each country on the extent to which it guarantees the right to a "fair public trial" - which it defines to include many of the due process rights omitted by the President's Military Order.
    November 28, 2001

    New Military Commissions Threaten Rights, Credibility
    Human Rights Watch today called on President Bush to rescind his Executive Order permitting the trial of non-citizens by special military commissions. The Executive Order gives the military commissions extraordinary powers to violate the most basic due process rights long guaranteed by the United States.
    November 15, 2001

    Letter to President Bush on Military Commissions
    Dear President Bush, We are writing to express our profound concern with the new Executive Order on the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism, issued on November 13, 2001. We recognize that the existing state of emergency in the United States permits certain derogations of internationally protected human rights. Nevertheless, the broad reach of the executive order sacrifices fundamental rights to personal liberty and to a fair trial that go far beyond what is permitted even in times of crisis.
    November 15, 2001



The United States has routinely condemned gross transgressions of basic due process rights when committed by other governments because they violate binding international law to which the U.S. government and over 140 other governments have subscribed. For example, the United States has:
  • criticized the military courts in Peru that convicted U.S. citizen Lori Berenson for terrorism without adequate due process; indeed, the State Department called on Peru to retry the case "in open civilian court with full rights of legal defense, in accordance with international judicial norms."
  • condemned Nigeria for convicting and executing author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists after a trial before a special military court appointed by the government.
  • criticized the manner in which military tribunals are used to try accused terrorists in Egypt, pointing out in its most recent annual report on human rights in that country that "military courts do not ensure civilian defendants' due process before an independent tribunal.
  • expressed great concern about trials of foreigners, including Americans, for espionage before closed tribunals in Russia.