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The constitutional case for military tribunals

Today’s U.S. military tribunals are fair and balanced, according to Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor of military commissions. “These are not the exclusive terror courts that some may have thought about 10 years ago,” he explained. “What you have now is an accountable institution that is commensurate with our highest values of justice under the law.”

Martins addressed the role of the reformed military commissions and the constant tension between public opinion and national security last Thursday evening in the Raytheon Amphitheater. The event—sponsored by the Doctor of Law and Policy program in the College of Professional Studies—drew a score of students as well as JAG officials, Green Berets, and staff from the office of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Thomas Mullikin, associate director of the college’s law and policy program, introduced Martins as an “American hero who is admired for his great acts and fine qualities.”

Martins is responsible for implementing the changes outlined in the Military Commissions Act of 2009, which amended the eponymous act of 2006. The Department of Defense redesigned the set of procedures for conducting military commissions in order to address constitutional concerns raised by the Supreme Court, including the right of enemy combatants to challenge their detentions in federal court.

According to news reports, more than 160 prisoners are currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in connection with the global war on terror. Martins—the lead prosecutor in the trial of detainee Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11—assured skeptics that those who would be tried for war crimes under the new act would be given a fair trial.

“This is a sharply adversarial process,” he argued, noting that military trials end in acquittals more often than those of the civilian variety. “Independent judges are sworn to uphold the Constitution and committed with every fiber of their being to make sure these are not just paper protections.”

Martins rebutted the common claims from press as well as advocacy groups that military commissions are unfair, unnecessary, and un-American. In the Q-and-A that followed his hourlong lecture, he responded to one student who questioned the fairness of having military officers adjudicate the trial of a war criminal. “Power must pay tribute to reason,” he said, paraphrasing Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. “We have to ensure we are not exacting vengeance and that we’re doing justice.”