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New Charges for 3 Guantanamo Detainees

By MICHAEL MELIA
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 3, 2007; 12:04 AM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The U.S. military prepared new charges Friday against three of the best-known detainees at Guantanamo Bay _ a key step toward resuming the military tribunals for terrorism suspects that were halted by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Authorities drafted new charges _ including murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism _ against Canadian Omar Khadr, Australian David Hicks and Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen, said Air Force Col. Morris Davis, chief prosecutor in the Guantanamo war crimes trials.

Under military rules, the charges are not considered formally filed against the detainees until they are approved by a U.S. Department of Defense legal adviser and another official who oversees the tribunals.

That process is expected to take two weeks, Davis said. Court hearings are not expected to begin at Guantanamo until at least the spring.

Also Friday, a military defense lawyer whose paralegal reported overhearing guards at the U.S. Navy base in southeastern Cuba brag about beating detainees said she was accused by a military investigator of filing a false statement.

Army Col. Richard Basset, who was ordered by the U.S. Southern Command to investigate the allegations into guards' actions, told the paralegal, Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny, that the guards denied her account of their September conversations in a Guantanamo bar, according to Marine Lt. Col. Colby Vokey.

The investigator accused Cerveny of having made a false statement, Vokey told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He said Basset met with the Cerveny late last year at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where she is based.

The probe began after Vokey filed a complaint with the Pentagon's Inspector General's office in October and attached a sworn statement from Cerveny. Jose Ruiz, a spokesman for Southern Command the where Basset is based, declined to comment on contents of the investigation.

In an earlier attempt to try detainees, the military had charged 10 of them and begun pretrial hearings at Guantanamo. The tribunals were halted by a Supreme Court ruling that their rules violated U.S. and international law.

Congress passed a new law authorizing the military commissions and President Bush signed it into law in October. The military then drafted a new set of rules for military commissions that have drawn criticism because they permit coerced or hearsay evidence.

The military has said it plans to charge 60 to 80 of the detainees at Guantanamo, where nearly 400 men are held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Davis said it made sense to start with Hicks, Khadr and Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, because all were among those previously charged.

"Those three have been around for a while, and they were prepared and ready to go," he said.

Hicks, a former kangaroo skinner who converted to Islam in his native Australia, allegedly fought for the Taliban before he was captured in Afghanistan. Toronto-born Khadr, who is accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan, has allegedly acknowledged being trained by al-Qaida. Hamdan has said he worked for bin Laden but denied any links to terrorism.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Saturday welcomed the U.S. announcement that fresh charges have been prepared against Hicks.

"I'm glad that the charges are being laid and that the deadline I set has been met," Howard told reporters, referring to his demand that Hicks be charged by mid-February. Howard has come under mounting political pressure to have Hicks tried or set free.

© 2007 The Associated Press