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Homeland Security

American Forces Press Service

Prosecution Supports Self-Representation in Gitmo Cases

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 27, 2006 The chief prosecutor for military commissions here today reaffirmed that the prosecution believes detainees should have the right to self-representation.

The prosecution supported defense lawyers when they sought self-representation for a detainee in 2004, and the prosecution still supports the defense's attempts for that right in other cases, Air Force Col. Morris Davis said at a news conference.

"It's their name on the charge sheet, and I think they ought to have the right," Davis said of the detainees.

Self-representation has been an issue in many of the commissions cases since hearings began. Several detainees have rejected their detailed defense counsel and asked to represent themselves. However, a 2005 ruling by John D. Altenburg Jr., the appointing authority for the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions, says that self-representation in a military commission is "impracticable."

A main sticking point in the self-representation issue has been that the commissions cases will involve classified information and closed hearings that detainees cannot have access to. Not having access to all the evidence will prevent the detainee from getting a full and fair defense, officials have said.

Today, Davis said that an ideal situation would be for detainees to be allowed to represent themselves, with counsel assigned to assist in areas the detainee cannot have access to, such as interviewing witnesses and looking at classified documents.

"We're going to continue working with the defense and try to find a satisfactory solution," Davis said.

This week of commission hearings has yielded some progress, Davis said, and shows that the process is moving in the right direction. Davis said he was pleased with the conduct of the prosecution and defense attorneys and the detainees who appeared.

"I think this week we saw professionalism in the courtroom and civility outside the courtroom, and I certainly hope that trend continues," he said.

Davis also defended the military commissions, saying they were not a place to persecute people for their religion. People from the full spectrum of beliefs, including Muslims, participate in the detention, prosecution and defense of the detainees charged under the military commissions, Davis said.

"The military commissions are here to prosecute conduct, not persecute belief," he said. "This is about terrorism, not about Islam."

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