Guantanamo and Beyond: Dangers of Rigging the Rules

62 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2008


Supporters of the U.S. antiterrorism policy of indefinitely imprisoning "enemy combatants" captured in the "War on Terrorism" claim that it gives the Executive needed flexibility for incapacitating potentially dangerous terrorists and interrogating them with harsh methods to uncover plans for terrorist attacks. The policy has been widely criticized from its inception, mostly on the grounds that it is illegal and immoral. Bracketing these critiques, this Article argues that this policy is ineffective. The policy impedes the government's ability to conduct the investigations necessary to prevent terrorist attacks because it fosters indiscriminate dragnets, imprisonment, and coercive interrogations of people who are not terrorists. Given that innocent people are likely to confess falsely when subjected to coercion, the policy risks proliferating false confessions and false leads that inundate and mislead investigators. Unfortunately, the U.S. government has failed to understand this link among detentions, interrogations, and investigations, and the need for reliable judicial process to sort terrorists from non-terrorists. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that prisoners had only limited rights to challenge that they were "enemy combatants," and the Bush administration used that ruling to create the Combatant Status Review Tribunal ("CSRT"). The CSRT, however, is rigged to rubberstamp the government's case. The CSRT applies a broad definition of "enemy combatant" that inevitably ensnares innocent people; applies a presumption of guilt; has no juries; disables prisoners from gathering exculpatory evidence; prohibits prisoners from having lawyers; and relies on hearsay, coerced confessions, and secret evidence to reach its judgment that a prisoner should be detained indefinitely. Also rigged are the "military commissions" created by the administration to try "enemy combatants" for terrorism and war crimes. Military commissions may rely on coerced testimony and hearsay and use soldiers for jurors. But, unlike the CSRT, military commissions can impose death sentences, which cause innocent prisoners facing what they believe is certain execution to "cooperate" by confessing or falsely accusing others. Rigged rules also undermine investigative abilities. Knowing they can win trials by simply coercing confessions and relying on hearsay, investigators may feel little need to risk their lives infiltrating terrorist groups and developing sources. Such skimping can cause investigators' skills to atrophy and prevent their building an accurate database over time. This Article argues that U.S. policymakers should forge an effective detention and interrogation policy that recognizes the link to accurate investigations and suggests some guidelines for creating a tribunal designed to reach accurate conclusions about whether a prisoner is even a terrorist at all.

Keywords: Guantanamo, War on Terror, CSRT, military commissions, criminal procedure, evidence, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Foley, Brian J., Guantanamo and Beyond: Dangers of Rigging the Rules. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 97, No. 4, 2007. Available at SSRN:

Brian J. Foley (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

United States

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