Terrorism Trials & Investigations

Human Rights Watch Responds

By Benjamin Wittes
Saturday, March 3, 2012, 8:45 AM

Yesterday, I posed a question to Human Rights Watch in response to some comments in the Washington Post by an official of the organization, Andrea Prasow. Prasow had been quoted, in reference to the Majid Khan plea, as follows:

“It’s not about any individual case,” said Andrea Prasow, a counterterrorism specialist at Human Rights Watch who attended the Khan proceeding. “It’s about a principle: You can’t get a fair trial in a military commission.”

I asked, in response, "Did Khan get a fair proceeding in a military commission? If not, what was unfair about it? And if so, isn’t the principle too sweeping?"

Prasow emailed me the following:

The short answer to your question is that given that Khan was forcibly disappeared, held in incommunicado detention, reportedly tortured while in CIA custody and faced either continued, long-term indefinite detention without trial in Guantanamo or trial in a flawed military commission system, I do not believe that a plea agreement in those circumstances can be considered “fair.” That does not of course mean he should not have entered into a plea agreement, but the end result does not validate the system.

My more complete thoughts on the Majid Khan sentencing are detailed here.

This logic doesn't quite work for me, but I want to think about it--and consider Prasow's longer essay--before responding.