Vice Adm. MacDonald Wants a Few Changes to Senate Panel’s Military Commissions Bill
All three witnesses — the Defense Department’s Jeh Johnson; the Justice Department’s David Kris; and the Navy Judge Advocate General, Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald — praised the Senate Armed Services Committee’s new legislative initiative to reform the military commissions. But MacDonald went a bit further from a civil libertarian perspective and recommended two areas for “additional clarity.” First, he contended that military rules for handling classified evidence in courts don’t have a “robust history” and fall “far short of our goals.” MacDonald prefers basing the standard on civilian law, the Classified Information Procedures Act, which protects the ability of admitting but not fully disclosing classified information into evidence — a statute defended by the civil liberties community as evidence for why civilian courts can handle terrorism cases.
Second, MacDonald said he wants to restrain the hearsay-admissibility language allowed in the legislation to “assist practitioners in the field” when they capture illegal combatants. He recommends “drawing up a list of considerations” about what’s admissible, along the lines of the degree to which any non-Mirandized statement from a detainee is corroborated, the degree of reliability of the statement itself, and the degree to which the statement is itself coerced.
Johnson, meanwhile, called the panel’s recommendations of admitting hearsay evidence is “quite appropriate and an example of evident practical need.”