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American Forces Press Service

Military Commission Review Panel Takes Oath of Office

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2004 -- The first review panel members for military commissions took their oath of office at a Pentagon ceremony Sept. 21.

They are:

  • Judge Griffin Bell, Carter administration attorney general and former circuit judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed Bell to the vice chairmanship of the Commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform. Bell is currently a partner at the law firm of King & Spaulding. He graduated cum laude from Mercer University Law School in 1948.

  • Judge Edward G. Biester, Court of Common Pleas, Bucks County, Pa., 7th Judicial District. Biester served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1977. He was Pennsylvania's attorney general for from 1979 to 1980 and became a judge in 1980. He graduated from Temple University Law School in 1955.

  • William T. Coleman Jr., Ford administration secretary of transportation. Coleman's public service includes advisory or consultant positions to six presidents. Coleman was a member of the U.S. delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1969. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1946.

  • Chief Justice Frank Williams, chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Williams was as an associate justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island from 1995 to 2001. He served as an Army captain in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Silver Star for Valor. He earned his law degree from Boston University in 1970 and a master's degree in taxation from Bryant College in 1986.

Review panel members are responsible for reviewing military commission proceedings. The panel may consider written and oral arguments by the defense, the prosecution and the government of the nation of which the accused is a citizen.

The review panel has term limits, members can be removed only for good cause, and there is no chance for re-appointment. Their opinions will be published and have precedental value, officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cited the difference between military commissions today and those in the past. "Over the decades, military commissions have been used to prosecute enemy combatants accused of violating the laws of war," he said. "In the global war on terrorism, however, we're faced not with uniformed personnel from armies, navies and air forces, but enemies without countries often who wear no uniforms, often who carry no visible weapons and, in many cases, who do not abide by the normal conventions of warfare."

Rumsfeld praised the review panelists for their lives in public service. "These gentlemen who have agreed to serve on this panel and in each case, have devoted a good chunk of their lives to public service in one way or another," he said. "And each of the individuals is a person of great ability, broad experience -- varied experience, I would add -- executive experience, legislative experience, judicial experience. And each is known for their independence and their integrity."

The four panel members will later be commissioned as Army major generals for an approximate two-year term while serving intermittently in this role.

If the review panel finds that a material error of law occurred, it will return the case for further proceedings, including dismissal of charges. The panel also may make recommendations to the secretary of defense with respect to the disposition of the case before it, including sentencing matters.

When a case is before them, the panel members will select from among themselves the three members who will serve on a specific case. The three members of each review panel may select, at their discretion, one member to act as the president of that review panel.

"The role of the review panels is critically important," Rumsfeld said. "It's to ensure that the commissions take place in a fair and proper manner. And except in some few cases, I suppose, that may be necessary to safeguard sensitive information and that might damage our national security, the panel's written opinions will be published and made available to the public. These gentlemen have been selected because we know that they will make every effort to ensure that the procedures followed are fair to the accused and reflective of our basic legal traditions."

More panel members may be designated in the future, officials said.

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