- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A retired Army general will oversee military tribunals for terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including approving charges, the Pentagon said yesterday.

John D. Altenburg Jr., who retired as a two-star general last year, was chosen for the job. His last military assignment was assistant judge advocate general for the Department of the Army.

None of the 660 suspects held at Guantanamo Bay has been charged, and although the Pentagon has not said when it expects to begin military trials, the first is expected soon. It would be the United States’ first use of military tribunals since World War II.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon assigned military defense lawyers to Guantanamo detainees Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen and David Hicks of Australia. They are among six persons held at Guantanamo whom President Bush has determined are subject to trial by a military tribunal.

The decision to approve specific charges against any of the six, and to refer a case to trial, rests with Gen. Altenburg.

Human rights organizations have called on the United States to put on trial or release all the prisoners, or at least say what is planned for them. The groups complain that the open-ended, indefinite detentions have led to a deterioration in mental health and dozens of suicide attempts at the prison set up shortly after the start of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that the military trials will be fair, impartial and as open to public scrutiny as possible without compromising classified information or protected witnesses.

The Pentagon yesterday also named four members of a review panel who would hear appeals of cases decided by the military tribunals, and said they will be commissioned as Army major generals for their two-year terms on the panel.

The following are the four:

• Griffin B. Bell, U.S. attorney general in the Carter administration and former judge for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

• Edward G. Biester, a Court of Common Pleas judge in Bucks County, Pa. He also is a former Pennsylvania attorney general and an ex-member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

• William T. Coleman Jr., a former secretary of transportation.

• Frank Williams, chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

One or more additional review panel members may be named later, officials said. Review panel members will select from among themselves the three members who will hear a specific appeals case.

In a related move, the Defense Department’s top lawyer, William J. Haynes II, issued Military Commission Instruction No. 9, spelling out the procedures for appeals of tribunal decisions.


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