WASHINGTON – Backed by a favorable court ruling, the Pentagon intends to resume shortly the military trials of two terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, and to file charges against eight others.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said the ruling Friday by a three-judge federal appeals court panel was vindication of the Bush administration's approach to prosecuting suspected terrorists. Critics say the approach is flawed by inadequate legal protections.
"Proceedings will resume as soon as possible against two detainees," Rumsfeld said Monday without identifying them by name. Charges will be prepared against eight other suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, he said, and President Bush will be asked to declare additional detainees there eligible for military trials.
Later the Pentagon issued a written statement saying the men whose trials would be resumed first are David Hicks (search), an Australian accused of having fought alongside the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan (search), a Yemeni whose challenge to the legality of the trial system was initially upheld but was overturned Friday by the three-judge panel.
Gordon England, the acting deputy secretary of defense and overseer of the military trial process, said in the Pentagon statement that the Hamdan and Hicks trials will be reconvened "as soon as any necessary court orders are issued."
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, noted that lawyers for Hamdan said after Friday's ruling that they planned to further appeal it, either to the full United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or to the Supreme Court. Tobias questioned whether it makes sense for the administration to resume the Hicks and Hamdan trials before the appeals process has run its full course.
"They have the power to proceed, but whether it's a good idea practically — it seems to me it might not be," Tobias said in an interview.
Trial proceedings were begun last summer against Hicks, Hamdan and two other suspects, but they were halted after a district court ruled in November that Hamdan could not be tried by a U.S. military commission unless a "competent tribunal" determined first that he was not a prisoner of war under the 1949 Geneva Convention.
In Friday's ruling, the three judges said the commission itself is such a competent tribunal, and that Hamdan could assert his claim to prisoner of war status at the time of his trial before a military commission.
Hamdan's lawyers said Bush violated the separation of powers in the Constitution when he established military commissions. The appeals court disagreed, saying Bush relied on Congress's joint resolution authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as two congressionally enacted laws.
The other two suspects whose trials were started and then suspended are Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi (search), a Sudanese citizen accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, and Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al-Bahlul (search), a Yemeni accused of conspiring to commit war crimes. Officials said Monday that these cases would not be resumed as quickly as the Hamdan and Hicks cases because there are procedurals issues to be settled.
At a joint news conference at the Pentagon with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Rumsfeld applauded the court ruling and said it would help expedite the military trials, which are criticized by some as unfair .
"The court's ruling marks an advance in the global struggle against extremists and aids the effort to protect innocent life," Rumsfeld said. "It vindicates the president's determination to treat suspected terrorists humanely but not to grant them the protections of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right."
Howard, whose government is a close U.S. partner in the war on terror, said he is confident that Hicks will get justice.
"Particularly in the wake of some changes that were made to the process, Australia is satisfied that the military commission process in relation to David Hicks — since he is the one Australian held in Guantanamo Bay — will provide a proper measure of justice," Howard said.
Later, Howard said the allegations against Hicks are "particularly serious" and that he welcomes Rumsfeld's decision to resume the trial as soon as possible.
The Pentagon says there are about 520 terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.
The Pentagon also announced Monday that it will soon name replacements for the military commissions' chief defense counsel, Air Force Col. Will Gunn, and the chief prosecutor, Army Col. Robert Swann. Gunn and Swann are retiring from the military.