GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The first U.S. military commission in more than 50 years was convened here today in the case of U.S. vs. Salim Achmed Hamdan who is accused of conspiracy to commit violations of the law of war.
Military commissions have historically been used to try violations of the law of war, and this is the first of four preliminary hearings scheduled this week for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay.
The commission was ordered into session at 10:04 a.m. shortly after the arrival of Hamdan who was escorted into the courtroom with his detailed defense counsel, Navy Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift and an interpreter. Presiding Officer Colonel Peter Brownback and four other members of the commissions panel plus one alternate member then entered the courtroom.
Brownback's first act was to swear the members of the commissions panel as to their duties before the commission.
Swift next conducted voir dire of the commission panel beginning with Brownback and in the absence of the panel members who were excused at Swift's request. Voir dire is an opportunity afforded at the presiding officer's discretion to both the prosecution and defense to determine whether a commission panel member is qualified to impartially try the case.
At the conclusion of the voir dire of Brownback, Swift requested a brief recess to confer with his client, which Brownback granted. Following that, the court reconvened for a short time until Brownback recessed for lunch.
When the court resumed, Swift continued his voir dire of the remaining commission panel members, which consist of two U.S. Marine Corps colonels, an Air Force colonel and an Air Force lieutenant colonel.
This process continued into the afternoon with occasional recesses and a period where court was closed due to the presentation of classified information.
Court continued well into the evening as Swift finished his voir dire of the commission members and began introducing motions. Brownback granted Swift's request for a continuance, meaning the motions will be dealt with at a later time. In the final major event of the day, Brownback asked for a plea from Hamdan who exercised his right not to enter a plea at that time.
Observing the commission were members of U.S. and international media who are reporting on the commissions process this week. Additionally, representatives of five international organizations were in the courtroom along with members of the Office of Military Commissions.
Military commissions are a tool of justice implemented under President Bush's November 2001 order that established the basic guidelines for trying individuals accused of violations of the law of war. Enemy combatants at Guantanamo were captured during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Department of Defense is committed to ensure each accused receives a full and fair trial.