February 12, 2002

Military Tribunals May Allow Appeals - Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects tried before U.S. military tribunals will be given the right to appeal convictions and the death penalty would not be imposed without a unanimous decision by presiding judges, under rules being considered by the Pentagon, CBS News reported on Monday.

CBS also said the United States is prepared to allow prosecutors to use hearsay evidence in the trials, but will give the defendants the right not to incriminate themselves and the right to call witnesses.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likely will approve this month guidelines to prosecute suspected members of Saudi-born extremist Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and Afghanistan's toppled Taliban regime before secret military tribunals, according to CBS.

CBS, which did not cite the source of its report, said the proposed rules closely follow those already used to try members of the U.S. military.

At the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the United States currently is holding 254 captives from the campaign in Afghanistan whom it has denied prisoner-of-war status -- a decision that has outraged human rights groups worldwide.

Many of the captives could face trial before military tribunals, a possibility that has also raised concern the detainees would not receive due process.

President Bush issued a presidential order in November allowing for the military tribunals, outside the scope of the regular U.S. court system, to try non-U.S. citizens believed connected to al Qaeda, which he blames for the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

CBS said the proposed rules of evidence to be deemed admissible against a defendant would be much more lenient than in a U.S. civilian court. For example, prosecutors would be allowed to present hearsay evidence -- forbidden before a civilian court -- before the military judges, CBS said.

But CBS said there would be an appeals process with the ultimate appeal possibly going to President Bush.

CBS said a conviction would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt and a guilty vote by at least two thirds of the presiding judges. CBS said the proceedings still would be allowed to take place in secret with no public oversight.

CBS said the U.S. military's Judge Advocate General's Office will run the tribunals and provide judges and prosecutors.

``These rules are still being drafted,'' a Bush administration official told Reuters in response to the CBS report. Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin also said she could not confirm that the rules had been finalized.

Copyright 2002. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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