July 15, 2005

US appeals court says Guantanamo trial can proceed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on
Friday that a Guantanamo prisoner accused of being Osama bin
Laden's bodyguard could be tried by a military tribunal,
reversing a lower court decision that such a trial was unlawful
and would violate his rights.

In a victory for the government, the three-judge panel said
the military tribunal process at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba was
the proper forum for Salim Ahmed Hamdan to be tried.

If Hamdan were convicted, he could then contest his
conviction in federal court after exhausting his options
through the military justice system, the panel said.

Hamdan has been charged with conspiracy to commit attacks
on civilians, murder, destruction of property and terrorism.
Hamdan is also accused of being bin Laden's personal driver in
Afghanistan between 1996 and November 2001.

Hamdan's trial was halted last November by a district court
judge who declared the military tribunal procedures unlawful.
The judge had ruled that the trial could not proceed until a
decision had been made on whether Hamdan was a prisoner of war
under the Geneva Conventions.

The appeals court said that ruling was wrong, and said the
Geneva Conventions do not help Hamdan.

"One problem for Hamdan is that he does not fit the ...
definition of a 'prisoner of war' entitled to the protection of
the convention," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote in a 20-page
ruling. "Another problem for Hamdan is that the 1949 Convention
does not apply to al Qaeda and its members."

The military tribunals, formally called a military
commission, were authorized by President Bush after the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks, but have been criticized by human rights
groups and some military lawyers as being fundamentally unfair
to defendants.

The Bush administration has defended the proceedings as
lawful and argued that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to
Hamdan and others captured in the war on terrorism.

Hamdan can appeal the decision to the full appeals court or
to the U.S. Supreme Court.