Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Military tribunals `unlawful': Amnesty International

AP , ATHENS

US military tribunals against terrorism suspects would be "unlawful" and could lead to the execution of people wrongly accused, the head of Amnesty International said.

"To insist that secret trials are necessary in order to protect intelligence sources, in my view is not a good enough reason," the human rights watchdog's Secretary-General Irene Khan told reporters in an interview on Thursday.

"To conduct a trial where secret evidence is allowed, the person cannot defend himself, and then may be subject to execution. Well, to me, that is not very far removed from just executing people," he said.

US Congress and President George W. Bush are currently working on guidelines on how detainees should be interrogated and put on trial. Ten detainees at the US military's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have been charged with crimes, but their military trials were put on hold after the US Supreme Court ruled last June that the tribunals were illegal -- partly because the Bush administration had set them up without congressional approval.

"It's pretty clear trials conducted under those conditions are not fair at all and will not deliver justice to the victims of terrorist attacks ... We believe they are unlawful, they don't meet US standards, and they don't meet international standards," Khan said. "Does it mean that the US administration doesn't have confidence in its own courts?"

Khan is visiting Greece to receive an award from the Athens Bar Association.

Khan said the global hunt for terror suspects and increasing lack of accountability in security services had hurt international human rights campaigns.

"We have seen attempts to weaken protection against torture taking place. In that sense there is a worsening of the global picture," she said. "The message is going out to certain regimes, who see this as legitimizing what they have been doing before."

Signs of progress had been seen with bringing war crimes suspects to trial and legal challenges being mounted against restrictive security policies in democratic countries, she said.

Khan said Turkey had suffered recent "setbacks" in efforts to improve human rights conditions, but also blamed the EU for failing to set clear standards for the candidate country.

"We have also seen rollback on some human rights issues. And that is extremely worrying," she said.

"I think this issue ... has become a political football in Europe. It's not only a question of whether Turkey is part of the EU or not. It's a much broader position of having a neighbor on the flanks of Europe with a dicey human rights record and problems with its security. That could be dangerous," she said.

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