Military trials for four captives at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are scheduled to resume immediately, and the Defense Department is preparing charges against eight other prisoners there, Pentagon officials announced yesterday.
The Office of Military Commissions also will continue preparing recommendations for potential charges against an unspecified number of detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay prison, as the U.S. military revives the stalled trials in the wake of an appellate court's decision last week.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Friday that "military commissions" are the appropriate venue in which to try enemy combatants and members of al Qaeda arrested by U.S. forces abroad. The commissions have been on hold since December, after a federal district court's order stayed proceedings in one case.
Members of Congress have spoken out in recent weeks about the stalled process of adjudicating cases of about 520 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, where some have been held for more than three years without being charged or prosecuted. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, held a hearing last week in which he argued for legislation to bring detainees to trial.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Congress should legislate the process for establishing the legal status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and for prosecuting them, to prevent the government from holding prisoners there indefinitely. Schiff has proposed a bill that would require detainees to have independent hearings within six months and require a legal disposition within two years.
The Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that captives at Guantanamo Bay are guaranteed the right to contest their detentions in U.S. federal courts.
"We're strongest in the war on terrorism when we act in unison, with the Congress and the administration, and areas like we're in now are kind of a twilight zone," Schiff said. "I understand why the administration wants to move forward. Even so, we have 12 people designated for tribunals out of 500. It begs the question about what will done about all the rest."
Friday's decision in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's driver, cleared the way for the military commissions to resume. Hamdan was the first to face a military trial in August 2004 after U.S. officials alleged that he helped the al Qaeda leader ferry weapons and flee after the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hamdan has been charged with murder, terrorism, conspiracy to commit attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent.
Neal K. Katyal, a Georgetown University law professor who is Hamdan's civilian attorney, said yesterday that Hamdan's defense team is studying last week's court ruling and "definitely" plans to appeal.
According to a Pentagon news release, military proceedings also will resume against David Hicks, an Australian detainee who has been charged with conspiracy to commit attacks on civilians and civilian objects, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent, and aiding the enemy. Pentagon officials have said Hicks trained in Albania in 1999 with the Kosovo Liberation Army and fought for Albanian Muslims. He later converted from Christianity to Islam and in early 2001 attended al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
Commission proceedings against another Yemeni detainee, Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, and Sudanese detainee Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi also will move forward, according to the Pentagon release. Both men are charged with conspiracy, murder, destruction of property and terrorism. The other eight men who soon could face charges were not identified.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the military commissions will move forward "as rapidly as is possible."
"The court's ruling marks an advance in the global struggle against extremists and aids the effort to protect innocent life," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.