Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld today outlined the structure of wartime military commissions, the judicial panels ordered by President Bush to try suspected international terrorists. This announcement followed in-depth consultation with military leadership, the Defense Department's general counsel and members of various civilian legal communities.
"Make no mistake, we are dealing with a dangerous and determined adversary, for whom September 11th was just the opening salvo in a long war against our nation, our people and our way of life," said Rumsfeld. "We have no greater purpose, no greater responsibility as a nation, than to stop these terrorists, to find them, root them out, and get them off the streets, so that they cannot murder more of our citizens. The president has a number of tools at his disposal to meet that difficult challenge, including the use of military commissions to try captured Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists."
The military order issued by the Department of Defense includes guidelines for commission civilian and military makeup, trial procedures, admissibility of evidence, defendants' legal safeguards, a review process, and requirements for conviction and sentencing.
"Let there be no doubt that these commissions will conduct trials that are honest, fair and impartial," said Rumsfeld. "While ensuring just outcomes, they will also give us the flexibility we need to ensure the safety and security of the American people in the midst of a difficult and dangerous war."
In response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the president issued an order on Nov. 13 that permits non-U.S. citizens to be tried by military commissions. The commissions share characteristics with both federal and military courts, but provide heightened protection for trial participants and safeguards for classified information.
"In the months since the president issued his order, the department has consulted with a variety of experts, both in and out of government, in an effort to come up with rules and procedures that will ensure just outcomes, while protecting the American people from the clear and present danger posed by terrorist networks," said Rumsfeld. "We believe we have done just that. And today, the department has issued procedures governing how these commissions will function that we believe are fair, balanced and just."
A copy of the Defense Department's order on military commissions is on the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Mar2002/d20020321ord.pdf, and a companion fact sheet is on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Mar2002/d20020321fact.pdf.