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Pentagon Names Top Lawyers for Military Tribunals Trying Terrorist Cases - 2003-05-23

The Pentagon has announced the names of two military officers who will serve as Chief Prosecutor and Chief Defense Counsel for the trials of foreign terrorist suspects.

The appointment of the top two lawyers for terrorist tribunals follows the recent release of a series of instructions to be used during the trials and could signal the first prosecutions of terrorist suspects might be imminent.

Some 680 such suspects are currently held in a special detention facility at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

But so far none have been selected for trial.

The man who will act as Chief Prosecutor is Army Colonel Frederic Borch. He says ensuring the fairness of the proceedings will be critical.

"The military commissions are going to be very similar to all the same challenges that any prosecutor faces in court and that is making sure, one, that the proceedings are fair, because that is a major goal for the prosecution, not winning cases necessarily, fair trials, and then finding the right evidence and bringing the right case," he said.

For his part, the officer named Chief Defense Counsel, Air Force Colonel Will Gunn, says openness of the trials will be critical so the world can see the proceedings are fair.

"This process is going to be judged not so much by virtue of whether or not a particular detainee was convicted by military commission, it will be judged from the world community by virtue of whether or not the process was fair and just," he said.

Nevertheless, procedures for the special trials do allow for possible closed hearings at which secret testimony and evidence will be presented. The Pentagon says even though terrorist suspects will be allowed civilian attorneys, these may be barred from closed sessions. Military defense lawyers assigned to those on trial will be allowed to stay.

Some civil liberties activists have been critical of the detention process for terrorist suspects and the planned military trials.