United Press International
March 15, 2002

DOD Close to Unveiling Tribunal Details

By Pamela Hess

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that the government has finalized most details of the procedures to be followed by special military tribunals that may be created to try foreign terrorists but declined to specify details, saying he did not want the plan criticized until it is released in its entirety.

"I do not want it leaked out piecemeal in a way that people start taking a single element of it and shaking it in their teeth like a dog and concluding that there's something wrong with it because it's different from the criminal justice system or the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Rumsfeld told reporters Friday. "We're in the process of preparing papers and questions and answers and getting expert lawyers to read them over and make sure that no one can say that something's wrong with it."

He said that would prevent critics from lambasting the proposal.

"If people look only at one element of it and start droning them out, one after another, everyone will chew it up, shake it around and say 'Oh, that's not right; it's not the same as the criminal justice system. It's not the same as the Uniform Code of Military Justice,'" Rumsfeld said.

"When they look at the totality of it, drop a plumb line through it, there's not a doubt in my mind rational people will nod and say, 'Pretty good. That's fair. That's balanced.'"

President Bush signed an order in November approving the creation of the military commissions, which would only be used against foreign nationals.

The tribunals were expected to be carried out under a veil of secrecy to protect the identity of the judges, who could be targeted by the al Qaida network, Rumsfeld indicated.

An initial construct for the tribunals crafted by Defense Department lawyers in December said a death sentence for a defendant would require unanimous consent by the military panel, comprised of at least five U.S. officers. Guilty verdicts could be issued with a two-thirds majority, and there is a possibility defendants could appeal their verdicts to a three-officer panel.

None of the 300 al Qaida and Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, or the more than 200 still in Afghanistan have yet been singled out to face the court.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the issue -- and the potentially closed proceedings, and the possibility that defendants could face death sentences -- the tribunal has raised concerns among the allied governments in Europe.

Copyright 2002, United Press International. All rights reserved.

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