30 June 2004
U.S. Military Establishes Guantanamo Tribunal
Pentagon to announce trial dates for first three defendants
By Michael Jay Friedman
Washington File Staff Writer
On June 29, one day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base may challenge their classification as enemy combatants, the Pentagon announced the formation of a military tribunal, or commission, to adjudicate the cases against three of those prisoners.
Named as presiding officer of the new tribunal, the first since the end of the second World War, was retired Army Colonel Peter Brownback III. Brownback's experience includes 22 years as a judge advocate, or court-martial prosecutor, and nearly 10 years as a military judge. Four other military officers, as yet unnamed, will comprise the remainder of the tribunal.
The first three defendants to be tried as alleged al Qaeda members will be David Hicks of Australia, Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen and Ibrahim Ahmed al Qosi of Sudan. All are charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes. Hicks also is charged with attempted murder and aiding the enemy.
Because the June 28 Supreme Court decisions were silent on what kind of hearing would guarantee legal due process to an accused enemy combatant, it is possible that defense attorneys will challenge the constitutionality of the new tribunal. One difference between the tribunal and a standard American criminal trial is that the defendants will not be afforded the right to a jury trial; judgment instead will be rendered by Col. Brownback and his fellow tribunal members.
The Pentagon expects to announce trial dates for the three defendants by mid-July and to try the first case before year's end. The trials will be held at Guantanamo, where the U.S. currently detains approximately 600 prisoners.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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