The Pentagon has released a draft list of criminal charges be used in prosecuting al-Qaida terrorist suspects before special military tribunals. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the charges could also be used to prosecute Iraqi authorities for war crimes in the event of a new conflict.
The 19 page draft list of crimes includes such charges as terrorism, murder, rape, mutilation and hijacking - all clearly designed to apply to al-Qaida and other terrorists, including the 650 now held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the unveiling of the list does not mean any trials are imminent. "So it does mean you are a step closer," he said. "It does not necessarily mean that there is a person who is ready to be put into that process."
Defense officials say the document is being released now for comment by legal and other groups. They say it could be amended or expanded before it is issued in final form, probably in early March.
Other charges in the draft include some that appear aimed more at possible future crimes, perhaps by authorities in Iraq if there is a new war. These include the use of poison weapons and human shields, something that has Pentagon officials deeply concerned in connection with a possible Gulf war.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concedes the list of charges could be used against Iraqi authorities. "This would be one vehicle that would be available, among several others," he said.
President Bush approved the use of special military tribunals to try foreign terrorist suspects after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. While the Pentagon is working out details for conducting the trials, it is the President who must designate specific individuals who will be prosecuted by the tribunals. Mr. Bush has yet to do so and defense officials say they are in no rush as they continue to interrogate terrorist suspects for information to deter possible future attacks.