Defending Guantanamo, terrorism and national security cases in post 9/11 America



Doughty Street Chambers hosted a talk on defending Guantanamo and terrorism cases in post 9/11America with Lieutenant Colonel Jon S. Jackson, the U.S. Army's Deputy Chief Defense Counsel for Military Commissions, which provided counsel, solicitors, academics and advocacy groups a unique and critical perspective on defending these cases in the US.  


Jackson has served as lead defence counsel for Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi (one of five men charged in the attacks of 9/11), as well as Majid Khan and Omar Khadr before the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has been involved with numerous high profile cases and investigations including the Walter Reed Scandal, the Pat Tillman Investigation, Abu Ghraib and most recently the WikiLeaks case.  


Having worked as a military defence counsel on Guantanamo cases through three separate administrations – Bush, Obama and now Trump – Jackson provided a fascinating insight into how the law and procedure has developed over time and the political context of each development.


A passionate advocate for equal protection under the US Constitution and for the closure of Guantanamo, Jackson spoke frankly about the difficulties of defending Guantanamo clients as military defence counsel, particularly in building trust with clients while wearing the same uniform as those who were responsible for their capture and torture. He was particularly critical discussing the procedures and practices of the military commissions, which raise serious due process concerns and impeded his ability to properly defend his clients. Jackson explained how his work has involved defending clients alongside civilian counsel, including lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and how the defence of their clients often required public advocacy and media engagement in order to achieve their clients’ release.  


Jackson also mentioned the military trial of WikiLeaks’ alleged source, Chelsea Manning, my work representing Wikileaks with co-counsel from the Center for Constitutional Rights at her trial, the disproportionate nature of her sentence, and the work of our Doughty Street International colleague, Nancy Hollander, which led to Obama commuting the sentence. Chelsea will be released this week.


His talk sparked a rich comparative conversation about terrorism trials in the UK and US with key members of Doughty Street Chambers' crime team, including Tim Moloney QCJoel Bennathan QC, David Bentley QC, Peter Carter QC and Steven Powles. The discussion ranged from criminal procedure rules regarding the admissibility of certain forms of evidence, including hearsay, surveillance and evidence obtained through the use of torture, sentencing guidelines and practices, and detention practices in prisons housing those convicted of terrorism offences in light of recent discussions here in the UK.


Jackson has given a TED talk on the use of torture, in full military uniform, speaking forcefully about why torture is illegal, it does not work and should never be employed. His talk with us at Doughty Street Chambers picked up on these themes. Based on his extensive experience, Jackson emphasised his view that from both legal and operational perspectives, using  torture makes no sense for the US – or for any government.

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