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Pentagon Issues More Instructions for Trial of Terror Suspects - 2003-05-02


Defense officials have moved another step closer to clearing the way for the first military trials of foreign-born terrorist suspects.

Defense officials have issued several more instructions for the military commissions that will be established to try al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists detained in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States two years ago.

At the Pentagon Friday, officials released a final list of possible criminal charges to be brought against terrorist suspects along with sentencing guidelines that allow use of the death penalty.

In addition, the new instructions set out qualifications for both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Among other things, these stipulate that defense counsel must be U.S. citizens.

The regulations would allow defense counsel to obtain security clearances in order to receive classified documents or hear classified testimony.

However the rules also provide for possible closed proceedings at which civilian attorneys might be barred. They also say some protected information may be denied to civilian defense lawyers. In any such cases, military defense counsel assigned to accused terrorist suspects would still participate.

Nonetheless, defense officials say the goal will always be to hold open trials. No location has been formally selected for any trials.

But the officials say with the exception of a few other small logistical matters, they are almost ready to proceed with the first terrorist prosecutions.

The biggest remaining obstacle is that the president has yet to designate any formal candidates for prosecution. These will come primarily from among the more than 600 terrorist detainees held at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and other undisclosed locations.

However the officials concede any terrorist suspects detained in Iraq during the recent war there could also be potential candidates for the special military tribunals.

And earlier this year, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld conceded the military tribunal process could be one option for any possible war crimes prosecutions of Iraqi authorities.