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Homeland Security

19 August 2004

Defense Department Report, August 19: Military Tribunals Readied

Preliminary hearings for four accused war criminals are scheduled

Four individuals charged with war crimes as part of the global war on terrorism, are the first to be scheduled for preliminary hearings during the week of August 23-27, according to John Altenburg, who is the Defense Department's appointing authority for military commissions.

The proceedings, which are being held at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are part of a military commission process that is being used for the first time since the end of World War II.

Altenburg told reporters at the Pentagon August 17 that each detainee has been assigned a free, experienced military defense counsel. Defense lawyers are "absolutely independent," he said. "The defense lawyers' allegiance is solely to their client," the official added.

The accused, who are presumed innocent until proved otherwise, may also retain a civilian attorney at personal expense.

Defense counsel will have the right to cross-examine government witnesses, challenge government evidence, call witnesses for the defense, and present supporting evidence.

The accused may choose to remain silent during the process, he said, and the silence of the accused will not be held against him.

In presenting its case, Altenburg said the prosecution must establish proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The commission is composed of six members. A court reporter will record the proceedings. Interpreters are available. Reporters will be in the room and monitoring the legal maneuvering via closed-circuit television.

While many issues have to be resolved as this legal process enfolds, Altenburg said he expects it will begin to move forward next week in at least a couple of the cases.

During the question-and-answer session, Altenburg emphasized thatemphasized that no third parties have been monitoringbeen monitoring any attorney-client discussions.

The legal proceedings that are about to unfold in Guantanamo stem from a presidential order issued in November 2001.

The full transcript of Altenburg's briefing may be viewed on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20040817-1164.html

Additional information about Military Commissions is available at
http://www.defenselink.mil/news/commissions.html and

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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