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U.S.: Military Commissions Can't Compare to International Courts

Due Process Standards Much Lower for Proposed U.S. Trials

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, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch released a chart describing the different standards in eleven areas, including the right to counsel, the right to appeal, and the presumption of innocence.

The United Nations Security Council has established tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. A permanent International Criminal Court is expected to be established in the coming year or two, despite U.S. opposition.

"President Bush's order would allow far lower standards than at the international tribunals," said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. "To claim they are similar is disingenuous at best."

The Bush administration has said that guidelines to be issued by the Secretary of Defense may address due process concerns that were ignored by the presidential order. But U.S. officials have refused to speculate on what the Secretary of Defense's guidelines may contain.

Therefore, at best the U.S. administration can claim that it hasn't decided yet whether to bring the standards for the commissions up to those of the international tribunal, Dicker said.

"The U.N. tribunals have met high judicial standards in prosecuting some of the worst war criminals in the world," said Dicker. "The administration is misrepresenting these courts for their own purposes."

Human Rights Watch also noted that the proposed military commissions, unlike the UN tribunals, permit the death penalty and do not provide for a right to a judicial appeal.

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