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Homeland Security

Analysis: Guantanamo: Confessions and Questions

Council on Foreign Relations

March 30, 2007
Prepared by: Eben Kaplan

A new chapter in the saga of the Guantanamo Bay detainees opened this March in rather unspectacular fashion. The first trial of an “enemy combatant” before a military commission at the controversial U.S. military base ended almost as soon as it began. David Hicks, an Australian accused of aiding al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, entered a guilty plea (BBC), preempting any lengthy legal proceedings.

Hicks’ trial was supposed to be a test run (AP) for the new military tribunal system established last year. Following a June Supreme Court ruling that the president did not have the authority to form special tribunals for detainees at Guantanamo, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, granting that authority. Noah Feldman, a legal expert and CFR adjunct fellow, expects more back and forth between Congress and the Supreme Court before the dust settles over the infamous prison camp.

Days before the Hicks trial, several other prominent Guantanamo inmates made their first appearance before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal; a smaller military commission charged with reviewing the detainees’ classification as enemy combatants. Chief among these was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, long believed to be the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. In his boastful testimony (censored transcript, PDF), Mohammed claimed responsibility for 9/11, the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and more than two dozen other plots. Mohammed also claimed to be the victim of torture (The Age) before his transfer to Guantanamo in September.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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