As the Department of Defense continues to move forward with military commission, the secretary of defense today approved changes to improve military commission procedures. Military commissions have historically been used to try violations of the law of armed conflict and related offenses.
These changes follow a careful review of commission procedures and take into account a number of factors, including lessons learned from military commissions proceedings that began in late 2004. Other factors included a review of relevant domestic and international legal standards and suggestions from outside organizations on possible improvements to the commission process. DoD will continue to evaluate how we conduct commissions and, where appropriate, make changes that improve the process.
The principle effect of these changes is to make the presiding officer function more like a judge and the other panel members function more like a jury. One of the changes is that the presiding officer will be responsible for deciding most questions of law while the other panel members will have the authority to determine commission findings and decide any sentence.
Previously, the presiding officer and other panel members together determined findings and sentences as well as most legal questions. The new procedures remove the presiding officer from voting on findings and sentencing and give the other panel members sole responsibility for these determinations, while allocating responsibility for ruling on most questions of law to the presiding officer.
Also approved today were clarifications to the provisions governing the presence of the accused at a trial and access by the accused to classified information. The new provisions make clear that the accused shall be present except when necessary to protect classified information and where the presiding officer has concluded that admission of such information would not prejudice a fair trial.
They also make clear that the presiding officer must exclude information from trial if the accused would be denied a full and fair trial from lack of access to the information. If the accused is denied access to classified information admitted at trial, his military defense counsel will continue to have access to the information. Other changes approved include lengthening the amount of time for the Military Commissions Review Panel to review the record of each case.
These changes will be reflected in a revision to Military Commission Order No. 1 and are effective immediately. They are consistent with the presidents military order of Nov. 13, 2001 that established the military commission process to try enemy combatants for alleged violations of the law of war.
For more information about these changes, see the Military Commissions Changes fact sheet at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Aug2005/d20050831fact.pdf. For more information related to the detainees currently at Guantanamo, see the Guantanamo By the Numbers fact sheet at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Aug2005/d20050831sheet.pdf.