bu$h junta about-face: tribunals
The bush regime has done a 180 on military tribunals, just like changing their minds about independent 9/11 inquiries!
Administration's Position Shifts on Plans for Tribunals
By NEIL A. LEWIS
ASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — Despite saying last year that it wanted to move quickly to establish military tribunals for terrorism defendants, the Bush administration is now in no hurry to conduct such proceedings, officials and others say.
A principal reason, the officials and analysts say, is that the pressure to bring some prisoners before a tribunal quickly to demonstrate swift retribution for the Sept. 11 attacks has faded.
At the same time, government officials are now confident that they may detain the Taliban and Qaeda prisoners indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and elsewhere as enemy combatants and continue to gain valuable information from them through interrogations.
"The priority now is to continue to gather intelligence from these people, not to put them before any kind of court," an administration official said.
The official said that there would certainly be no tribunals this year and perhaps not any until late next year at the earliest.
This represents a reversal from the administration's approach last year. A month after the attacks, President Bush surprised Congress with an order providing for tribunals to deal with many prisoners taken in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In March, William J. Haynes II, the Defense Department's general counsel, rebuffed an effort by the American Bar Association to help shape the regulations that would govern the tribunals, saying there was not enough time.
Mr. Haynes said that utilizing the help of the lawyers' group would be impractical because of "the need to move decisively and expeditiously on the war against terrorism."
But the senior government official who discussed the new approach said that the emphasis was now heavily weighted to preventing terrorit acts. That, the official said, means intensive and lengthy interrogation of the detainees.
Victoria Clarke, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said that "there was never a sense to do this as quickly as possible but there was direction to do this as appropriately as possible."
Ms. Clarke said that Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, made it clear he wanted subordinates to develop a tribunal system "in as thoughtful and deliberate fashion as possible to make sure we would be prepared if and when the president decides to bring someone before a military commission."
Those in custody considered the most likely candidates for a military tribunal are two senior officials of Al Qaeda: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a Yemeni who has been described as a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Abu Zubaydah, believed to be the Qaeda director of operations.
Mr. bin al-Shibh was arrested in Pakistan in September; Mr. Zubaydah was picked up there in March.
Officials said, however, that those two were also the most important subjects for continued interrogation. Once put before a tribunal, analysts said, they would no longer be available for questioning by authorities.
Despite the more deliberate pace of creating military tribunals, the Defense Department is starting to find people to staff the system, officials said. Candidates are being considered for the posts of prosecutor general and chief defense counsel, as well as for slots on the appeals panel. Lt. Col. William K. Lietzau, an experienced Marine Corps lawyer and judge, is overseeing recruitment.
Colonel Lietzau, a former legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for chief prosecutor. He is now a staff member of the general counsel's office at the Pentagon.
In addition, some legal scholars are on a list of possible appointees to the appeals panel that would be established under the regulations, officials said. Any civilian named to the three-member panel would be temporarily appointed a military officer.
The procedures the Pentagon released in March require a unanimous verdict for the death penalty; allow most proceedings to be open to the public; and provide military lawyers at government expense to the defendants, as well as let them pay for civilian lawyers if they choose.
The rules also say that defendants would be presumed innocent and entitled to see the evidence against them. Thus, officials said, tribunals might not provide a cure for a problem that has arisen in the civilian trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in an American court in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. Defense lawyers say Mr. Moussaoui cannot get a fair trial without testimony from imprisoned Qaeda figures like Mr. bin al-Shibh.
Some officials have suggested that if Mr. Moussaoui's civilian trial falls apart, he could face a military panel.
Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer and authority on military law, said that the process of establishing military tribunals gives the government great flexibility in deciding whom to prosecute, and when.
"There is a growing conviction that there will be one or more prosecutions" by tribunals, he said. "So the machinery will eventually be used. The questions that remain are when will they be used, who will be charged and with what offenses."
The administration's confidence that it does not have to rush to bring detainees before a tribunal was enhanced this summer when a federal judge in Washington ruled that federal courts had no jurisdiction over the prisoners held in Guantánamo.
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