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War Crimes Charges To Be Filed Against Guantanamo Detainees January 30, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)–The U.S. military will begin filing war crimes charges against detainees at Guantanamo Bay this week under new rules for trials that allow coerced or hearsay evidence, the lead prosecutor for the tribunals said Tuesday.

The first round of charges, expected by Friday, will be filed against a small number of suspects at the U.S. naval base in Cuba – perhaps only a few of the 10 who were awaiting trial when the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the last effort to try detainees, Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

Once charges are filed, preliminary hearings are required within 30 days and a jury trial must begin within 120 days.

“We’re obviously anxious to get the process started and we think the new rules give us what we need to hold full and fair trials,” Davis said.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a manual outlining trial procedures. They are based on a law passed last year by Congress that restored President Bush’s plans to hold special military commissions to try terror-war prisoners.

The rules grant defendants legal counsel and access to evidence used against them, but they lack some protections used in civilian and military courtrooms, such as rules against coerced evidence.

Defense attorneys complain there are no guarantees they will be able to challenge the reliability of evidence against their clients.

“The military from our perspective may attempt to proceed with some type of trial, but I can assure you it will be anything but fair,” said attorney Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several hundred Guantanamo detainees.

About 395 men are held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of links to the Taliban or al-Qaida. All are classified as “enemy combatants” – a status that accords them fewer rights than prisoners of war under international law. Most have been held for years without being charged.

The military says it has enough evidence to charge between 60 and 80 of the detainees under the new rules.

Hearsay – a witness quoting someone else – can be allowed as evidence if a judge rules the testimony is reliable. According to the Pentagon manual, this is necessary because witnesses – such as military personnel or foreigners – may not be available to testify.

The manual prohibits the use of statements obtained through torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” But it allows some evidence obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge.

Those convicted of spying or taking part in a “conspiracy or joint enterprise” that kills someone could face a maximum punishment of death. The maximum penalty for aiding the enemy – such as providing ammunition or money – is lifetime imprisonment.

Davis said renovations to the base’s only courthouse will make it impossible to charge more than a small number of detainees for now.

“With that time clock and that one courtroom being off-line, it’s going to require rolling these cases out at a slower pace than we anticipated,” Davis said.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, declined to elaborate on the timetable for the tribunals.

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