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Appeals court says Guantanamo trial can proceed

July 15, 2005

By Deborah Charles

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. naval base at
Guantanamo Bay, 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.

The ruling means that Hamdan’s case, which was halted in
November, can continue. Three other prisoners have also been
charged and referred to the commission for the tribunal
process.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said in a statement he
was pleased with the ruling.

“The president’s authority under the laws of our nation to
try enemy combatants is a vital part of the global war on
terror, and today’s decision reaffirms this critical
authority,” Gonzalez 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 by a district court judge who
declared the military tribunal procedures unlawful. U.S.
District Judge James Robertson 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.

Twelve men held at Guantanamo have been designated as
eligible for trial before military commissions. Three others
were previously on the list, but have since been sent to their
home countries.

Charges have been referred to a commission for four of the
prisoners, including Hamdan.

About 520 men are held at the prison. Many were detained in
Afghanistan and have been held for more than three years. The
United States has classified them as “enemy combatants” and
denied them rights accorded to prisoners of war under the
Geneva Conventions.

The tribunals 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 its war on terrorism.

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

(Additional reporting by Will Dunham)




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