Amnesty International criticizes trials of terror suspects [Archives:2004/780/Front Page]

October 11 2004

Amnesty International claims that the trials for suspects charged for being involved in the bombing of the USS Cole and the French oil tanker Limburg were “unfair.”
In the report released last week, Amnesty International said that the two trials, in which three men were sentenced to death, “failed to meet international standards for fair trial. International law requires that the death penalty should not be imposed if the trial is unfair in any way.”
The report also said that “defense lawyers complained that they were not given the same rights as the prosecuting team of lawyers. They were not allowed to meet with their clients in private at their place of imprisonment and instead were only allowed to speak with them during court hearings.”
In August, 15 suspects were charged for the attack on the Limburg and plotting to assassinate the US Ambassador and bombing several embassies in Sana'a. One defendant was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing a police officer, while the others were given between three to ten years in prison.
Earlier this month, Jamal Al-Badawi, a Yemeni, and Saudi-born Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri were sentenced to death after they were found guilty of being involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Four other defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years.
Al-Badawi was convicted of taking part in planning and preparing the attack, including securing safe houses for the suicide bombers and acquiring the boat that rammed into the side of the US warship.
Al-Nashiri, believed to be the mastermind behind the attack, was tried in absentia. Thought to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden, Al-Nashiri was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2002, handed over to US officials and is being held by United States authorities in an undisclosed location. He is also believed to have been connected to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Defense lawyers in the USS Cole case said that they were not given full access to the files of their clients while the prosecution team was able to acquire them. Later in the trial proceedings, the defense team were allowed to see parts of the files.
“It was unfair by all international standards because the sentences did not relate to the evidence,” said defense lawyer Abdul Aziz Al-Samawi about the USS Cole case. “The sentences were to make the government look innocent and not to serve justice. This is a special court, so the sentencing is against the laws.”
Defense lawyer Khaled Al-Ansi said that during the Limburg trials, the defense team was not able to meet with their defendants or examine copies of the case outside the courtroom.
A number of defense lawyers boycotted the hearings and eventually withdrew from the defense teams.
“It appears that the course of the trials was predetermined,” said a Yemeni analyst. “These special courts did not seem to have lived up to international standards.”
After the suspects in the USS Cole trial were given sentences, US Navy Secretary Gordon England welcomed Al-Badawi and Al-Nashiri receiving the death penalty. He thanked the Yemeni government for being “willing to take positive action,” and that the verdicts delivered a message to terrorists that other countries besides the United States were taking the war against terror seriously.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty.
“The death sentences should not be upheld as they are a violation of the ight to life,” said Amnesty International's report.
The report also said that some of the defendants in the Limburg trial claim to have been tortured in a security prison. The suspects asked to be transferred to the central prison but were denied.
The USS Cole was attacked in October 2000 as it was refueling at the port of Aden. Two men approached the destroyer in a dinghy loaded with 500 pounds of explosives killing 17 US sailors and wounding 33 others when the explosives were detonated.
Two years later, the French oil tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen that killed one crew member and unloaded 90,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Aden.
Judicial sources said that the suspects in the Limburg case will begin their appeal this week. Samawi said that the suspects of the USS Cole case will appeal, but judicial sources have not announced the date when the proceedings will begin.