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DoD Announces Military Commission Review Panel

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2003 – Trials of detainees accused of terrorist acts came a step closer today, following three moves announced by senior Pentagon officials.

The Defense Department announced the selection of key personnel associated with military commissions and the issuance of a new instruction that creates a Military Commission Review Panel.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has designated four people to serve on the panel. They are: Griffin B. Bell, U.S. Attorney General under President Carter; Edward G. Biester, a judge with the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Pa.; William T. Coleman Jr., a former Transportation secretary; and Frank Williams, the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The men will serve for two-year terms, and will be commissioned as Army major generals during their terms.

Officials also released the instruction governing the board. Under the instruction, panel members will review the military commission proceedings. "The panel may consider written and oral arguments by the defense, the prosecution and the government of the nation of which the accused is a citizen," said a senior defense official. "If the review panel finds that a material error of law has occurred, the review panel will return the case for further proceedings, which may include dismissal of charges."

The panel may make recommendations to the defense secretary, including in sentencing matters. Written opinions of the review panel will be published, officials said. The results of all military commission trials will automatically go to the review panel.

Establishing the panel should go a long way to allaying fears that many critics have that the process does not have enough safeguards, officials said.

The senior official announced that that Rumsfeld has named retired Army Maj. Gen. John D. Altenburg Jr. as the appointing authority for military commissions. He will be responsible for approving charges for individuals charged under the commissions, appointing military commission members and approving plea agreements.

Altenburg replaces Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in the position. Officials said the job now requires someone who can devote all his time to it.

Rumsfeld also appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway as legal advisor for the appointing authority. Hemingway had retired in 1996, but was recalled to active duty in August 2003 for the job.

The military commissions were set up to establish a process that allows full and fair trials for those accused of terrorism, while protecting national security. On July 3, President Bush determined that six enemy combatants are subject to the military commissions. Two of those detainees have received defense counsels. No trials have been yet scheduled, and officials would not hazard a guess as to when trials may begin.

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