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Federal Judge: If Torture Prevents Detainee Convictions, ‘So Be It’

One concern that may animate the Obama administration’s Guantanamo task force deciding that about 50 detainees must be held indefinitely without trial is that the basis for any prosecution is evidence obtained through torture or abuse. Judge John Coughenour, a sitting federal judge on the U.S. District Court in Seattle, rejected that legal contention in a forum in New York.

If the United States can’t obtain convictions because it tortured detainees at Guantanamo, Coughenour said at a discussion hosted by the Constitution Project and the Open Society Institute, “So be it.” In those cases, the U.S. must simply accept that losing out on a prosecution is “part of the price you pay for being committed the way we are to due process and a constitutional process for convicting people.” As to the contention that those detainees are too dangerous for release, “the world is not at a loss for dangerous people,” said the judge, who presided at the trial of would-be Millenium bomber Ahmed Rassam in 2005.

In a separate statement, Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that it would be “an error of historic proportions” to institute indefinite detention without charge outside of Guantanamo. “While the administration should transfer prisoners to the U.S. for federal court trials, it should not create a ‘Gitmo North’ by bringing them to facilities in the U.S. or anywhere else to be illegally held without due process,” Romero said in the statement. “This practice was wrong in Cuba and would remain so here, reducing the closure of Guantánamo to a symbolic gesture.”

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