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DoD Presents Procedural Guidelines For Military Commissions

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2002 – Senior DoD officials today announced procedural guidelines for the establishment of military commissions to try accused terrorists, as ordered by President Bush last year.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, told Pentagon reporters here that the composition and structure of military commissions will ensure that defendants are fairly treated.

The construct of military commissions is the product of months of work, Rumsfeld noted, adding "it is balanced, it is fair, it is designed to produce just outcomes."

Just as during federal, state and local judicial proceedings, defendants at military commissions will be presumed innocent, the secretary said.

"Are we very, very pleased and satisfied that this will produce just outcomes? You bet," Rumsfeld said. "We also have the ability to amend it, if for some reason we found that there was something that we hadn't thought of.

"We're plowing new ground here to a certain extent," he added.

Rumsfeld said he and senior members of his military and civilian staff, including military and civilian law specialists, both inside and outside government, spent months developing the construct of the commissions.

The military commissions are designed to try non-U.S. citizens selected by the president, to include al Qaeda members, people involved in acts of international terrorism against the United States, and people who knowingly harbored such terrorists, according to a DoD fact sheet.

The defense secretary and his designates will appoint members to each military commission. Each commission will consist of three to seven members. The appointing authority will also designate one commission member, who must be a military lawyer, to be the presiding officer. Among other duties, the presiding officer ensures discipline and the decorum and dignity of proceedings.

Other commission members need not be lawyers, DoD officials said.

Rumsfeld and Pace called military commissions additional tools that can be used in the war against terrorism, in addition to military, diplomatic, financial, and other means.

The secretary remarked that locations of military commissions have not been decided "because we do not have any candidates, yet, to be tried by commissions."

The president and the defense secretary have review authority over commission verdicts and sentencing, according to DoD documents.

Bush, as commander in chief, issued a military order on Nov. 13, 2001, that permits military commissions to try non-U.S. citizens accused of terrorism against the United States.

Use of military commissions will embrace American ideals of jurisprudence and enable the United States to bring terrorists to justice without compromising national security or the war effort, DoD officials noted.

Presiding officers are authorized to take steps to protect classified and sensitive information used in military commission trials, according to DoD documents. Those documents also note that commissions can allow prosecutors to use classified information without having to reveal sources and methods.

In a civilian trial, a prosecutor could face a choice of exposing classified information and sources or losing a conviction.

Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves and may see unclassified evidence in advance of the trial, according to DoD documents. They may be represented by an attorney of their choice or by a commission-appointed one if they cannot afford their own.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Transcript: DoD News Briefing on Military Commissions, March 21, 2002


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