Does Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Have Rights?

October 16, 2012

On Monday here at Guantánamo, I saw Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in person for the first time. He’s accused of leading involvement in the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,976 people. Proceedings against him and the four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators resumed at the U.S. Naval Station this week, in a military commission process that does not meet international standards for fair trials.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, a crime against humanity, Amnesty International has been calling for those involved to be brought to justice. In a letter to President George W. Bush over 11 years ago, we wrote that in the wake of such a crime:

It is vital to maintain the highest respect for human rights and international human rights standards. This should include using every means available to bring those responsible for the 11 September attacks to justice within the framework of a fair and accountable criminal justice system, and with full respect for international standards for a fair trial. We urge your administration to adhere to such standards every step of the way towards the objective of justice, and to reject any resort to the death penalty in pursuit of this goal.

Justice will neither be done nor be seen to be done at Guantánamo’s military commission trials, not least with the defendants facing the possibility of the death penalty after years of enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment.

Under international human rights law, governments must adhere to basic principles, including:

  • Victims and survivors of crimes, such as the 9/11 attacks, have the right to remedy and redress for the harm they have suffered, including reparations and justice
  • Both victims and society as a whole have a right to the truth .
  • Those suspected of crimes have rights to due process, fair trial, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful or arbitrary detention, and remedy and redress for human rights violations they suffer.
  • Governments have an obligation to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment.

So yes, of course Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has rights. We all do.

In other words, when we talk about justice, we’re not just talking about the rights of the detainees, or just about the rights of victims and survivors. We are talking about the rights of everyone affected.

And these rights do not compete. Rather, they complement each other. And respect for them protects all of us from abuse, whether by governments, armed groups or others.

But the U.S. government continues to ignore its international human rights obligations in the name of “global war”:

  • Victims and survivors of the 9/11 attacks wait for a trial that complies with international standards, and reparations for what they suffered.
  • The public waits for the full truth about what was done in its name.
  • The individuals, families and communities affected by unlawful drone killings wait for accountability and transparency
  • The 9/11 accused–and others held with or without charge at

Guantánamo and elsewhere–wait for due process, fair trials and accountability for the torture and other crimes they suffered.

Guantánamo remains the global symbol of the U.S. government’s “global war” approach to national security. Yes, President Obama promised to close the prison, but without a fundamental change in approach his plan would merely have moved the indefinite detention and unfair military commissions to a new location–in essence, just changing the zip code. Congress blocked even that.

Thus far in the 2012 U.S. election process, Guantánamo has been overwhelmingly ignored by the candidates and the media. That’s an indication of how much work remains for human rights activists, because the issues that the prison camp represents are at the center of what it means for a country to respect human rights and the rule of law.

The U.S. government can and must change course. Crucial steps are to:

  • Abandon the Guantánamo military commissions and prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators fairly in U.S. federal court, without recourse to the death penalty
  • Charge and fairly try, or release, the other 161 Guantánamo detainees, including Shaker Aamer
  • Fully fund and implement the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act
  • Drop the “global war” framework and put international human rights at the center of U.S. national security policy

In short, human rights are the best way to ensure justice and security for everyone. The military commission proceedings currently underway at Guantánamo are part of a fundamentally flawed approach.

Take action

Tweet Dear @BarackObama @MittRomney I agree w/ @Amnesty:
#HumanRights violations in the name of security must end @ #Guantánamo & everywhere else

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