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Iran’s Criminal Justice System Looks Like Gitmo’s

Jason Rezaian

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is being prosecuted in Iran for "espionage for the hostile government of the United States.” He was initially arrested and incarcerated without any charges being filed against him. He is now being tried in a secret trial before an unsympathetic judge.

Sound familiar?

It should. It’s the same type of “judicial” system that the U.S. government employs at Guantanamo Bay.

In fact, at Gitmo it’s arguably worse for criminal defendants than it is for those in Iran. Like Rezaian’s, case, many of the “judicial” proceedings at Gitmo are held in secret (“national security,” of course) and prisoners are incarcerated without any hope of a speedy trial. Both prisoners and witnesses are coerced, sometimes through torture, to provide evidence that will more easily lead to a conviction. Even if there were a trial, prosecutors can introduce evidence that is not subject to cross-examination by the defendant — e.g., hearsay testimony.

In fact, when Gitmo was first set up, the Pentagon plan was to deny any participation by criminal-defense attorneys in its new “judicial” system. The idea was to have the same type of “judicial” system that exists in Iran and, for that matter, on Castro’s side of Cuba — i.e., one in which the Pentagon and the CIA could incarcerate anyone they wanted for as long as they wanted, torture them to their heart’s content, subject them to a kangaroo trial before military officials who would know what verdict they should deliver, and then execute them after this so-called trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court put the quietus on that Pentagon dream plan by assuming jurisdiction over Gitmo and ordering that criminal-defense attorneys be permitted to participate in the proceedings. But not surprisingly, given its long-time deference to the national-security branch of the federal government, the judicial branch failed to order an immediate shut-down of the Pentagon’s Iran-like system in Cuba. That’s why the unconstitutional, Iranian-like, bizarro “judicial” system at Gitmo continues to operate today.

The Gitmo experience reminds us of how grateful we should be that our American ancestors insisted on the passage of the Bill of Rights as a condition for approving the Constitution, the document that called the federal government into existence. Without the Bill of Rights, it is a virtual certainty that today we would be living under a federal criminal justice system that mirrors those in Iran, Gitmo, and Castro’s side of Cuba.

Like Rezaian’s, case, many of the “judicial” proceedings at Gitmo are held in secret (“national security,” of course) and prisoners are incarcerated without any hope of a speedy trial.
In fact, that was precisely the argument that our American ancestors made when they insisted on passage of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments — that without the express enumeration of rights and guarantees that had been carved out from centuries of resistance to British tyranny, the U.S. government would end up doing all the things that totalitarian regimes do to punish people they don’t like.

Otherwise, ask yourself: If our ancestors trusted the federal government to voluntarily honor these time-tested procedural rights and guarantees, why would they have believed it was necessary to spell them out in the Bill of Rights?

And how right our ancestors were! Just consider all the regimes that the Pentagon and the CIA have installed over the years with their regime-change operations. Look at Iraq today. Do you see a judicial system that contains the rights and guarantees enumerated in the Bill of Rights? Of course not. That’s because the Pentagon and the CIA made sure that such rights and guarantees were no part of the new Iraqi “judicial” system when they helped establish and maintain it during the more than a decade of military occupation of the country.

Or go back in history. Consider the Pinochet regime in Chile, which the U.S. government installed into power in 1973. Pinochet’s “judicial” system was a mirror image of that which exists in Iran, Gitmo, and Castro’s side of Cuba. That enabled Pinochet to avoid what he would have called “legal technicalities” in his round up of some 40,000 innocent people, his torture or rape of most of them, and his murder of some 3,000 of them — all with the support of U.S. national-security state officials.

Thank goodness for the wisdom, courage, and foresight of our ancestors. It’s because of them that Americans can elect to have their guilt or innocence determined by a jury of regular citizens, not some lackey judge who is nothing more than a tool of the prosecution. Americans have the right to have an attorney defend them against the overwhelming power of the federal government. They have the right to confront the witnesses against them and cross examine them, which oftentimes ferrets out liars, crooks, and perjurers. They have the right not be tortured or subjected to other cruel and unusual punishments. They have the right to a speedy trial, so that the government can’t keep them in jail on trumped-up charges forever.

If it hadn’t been for our American ancestors, all those rights and guarantees would be as missing in federal criminal prosecutions as they are in Iran and Gitmo.

It’s good that the mainstream press is outraged over the kangaroo proceedings against Jason Rezaian. Too bad they don’t express the same outrage over the kangaroo proceedings at Gitmo.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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