Canadian expert on terrorism says there is little difference between Stalin-era show trials and Guantanamo military commissions

There is no legal or pragmatic reason for the military commissions to exist at this point. There is no war occurring that could affect the capabilities of the U.S. civilian courts and these civilian courts have repeatedly shown themselves capable of producing convictions in terrorism-related cases.

A fair and open court case serves not only the interests of justice, but would also serve to remove the jihadists’ capability to use Guantanamo Bay as a radicalization tool.

The military commissions of the Second World War were implemented to hide the incompetence of the FBI and other agencies who had botched the case of German submarine-borne saboteurs. Eight German saboteurs were caught only because their leader turned himself in to American authorities and another member of the team deliberately left a trail of evidence behind him to ensure his capture. The military commissions, however, portrayed this dismal affair as a great success to assure the American people of the competence of their “homeland security” personnel. Déjà vu?

The Guantanamo Bay trials and the Soviet show trials of the 1930s have many factors in common as well. This is probably not an accident. In both cases, the objective of the trial is not to determine guilt or innocence, but rather to provide retributive justice.


The Soviet show trials’ chief prosecutor was Andrey Vyshinsky. His three main dubious ideas on justice were expressed in his book The Theory of Legal Evidence in Soviet Law. The first idea was that the “confession was the queen of all evidence” (no matter how it was obtained). His next idea was that the rules of justice were flexible depending on the needs of the authorities at the time. The presumption of innocence, he further argued, could only have a demobilizing effect in the fight against crime.

The rules of the current military commissions appear to be much the same. Confessions will be used, although it appears that no information about how the confessions were obtained will be entered. Nor will disclosure or discovery be used to determine how the confessions came about. Third-party hearsay evidence may also be allowed, depending on whether it is deemed to be reasonable by the judge.

According to Col. Morris Davis, who is a former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, it appears that the plan was made ahead of time to have no acquittals, no matter what the evidence was to reveal. General counsel William Haynes is quoted as saying (according to Col. Davis) “We can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? … We’ve got to have convictions.”



1 Response to “Canadian expert on terrorism says there is little difference between Stalin-era show trials and Guantanamo military commissions”

  1. 1 Selective defence of human rights « pixelisation Trackback on March 13, 2008 at 2:42 pm

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