Sunday, 21 October 2007

Expanded Gitmo war court taking shape

Posted on Sat, Oct. 20, 2007


GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE -- The foundation has been poured for a second war court chamber, with the capacity to try four alleged terrorists at a time.
U.S. troops have fashioned a M*A*S*H-style tent city to house lawyers, the media and international observers.

Even as the Pentagon moves to resume its war-on-terrorism trials, called military commissions, the detention center's commander said he has received no instructions and made no plans to to carry out the ultimate penalty they may impose -- death.

Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby said in an interview with visiting reporters this week that his senior staff is brainstorming on how they would handle a captive convicted of a war crime.

But they have heard ''not a syllable'' from the Office of the Secretary of Defense on plans for a death chamber.

''As far as I know, the means of . . . execution is not at my level,'' said Buzby, commander of the detention and interrogation center , which today holds about 330 foreign men as ``enemy combatants.''

The U.S. law authorizing the commissions specifies that an execution can be carried out only by the order of the president, and only after the convict is entitled to appeal his case to a civilian court.

The law leaves up it to the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to ''prescribe'' the procedure.

None of the three captives who currently face trial has been been designated for death-penalty cases.

Canadian captive Omar Khadr, 21, faces a Nov. 8 arraignment, his third after charges were twice dismissed through procedural challenges, for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan in July 2002. But the government has waived the death penalty in the case.

Meanwhile, to get ready for the trials, the Pentagon is spending about $12 million on ''Camp Justice,'' its so-called expeditionary legal compound -- complete with the second courtroom, holding cells. There is also a housing area with communal latrines and shower tents to accommodate about 500 trial observers and staff.

There is no execution chamber in the blueprint.

For years, Pentagon spokesman have described as ''too premature'' any talk of how a captive might be executed.

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and other Baath Party officials were hanged in Iraq -- but by the U.S.-backed government there, not the U.S. military.

The U.S. Army, which has not carried out an execution since 1961, has on paper lethal injection as its method of execution. It updated the regulation in 2006, saying an execution can be done at any federal execution site, not just the now unused death chamber at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

As it happens, the U.S. Supreme Court this year has agreed to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection in a Kentucky case.

Apart from the issue of execution, Buzby said members of his staff are considering what kind of alternative separate arrangements would be made for a convict.

''They would no longer be covered under Geneva [Conventions], for instance,'' he said. `That would go away.''

Only one captive has been convicted by a commission -- David Hicks, 36, who confessed to being an al Qaeda foot soldier in March under a plea deal that has him serving his nine-month sentence at a prison in his native Australia.

He is due for release by New Year's Eve.

In the Hicks case, before the prisoner went home his U.S. military jailers issued him a white uniform ''to signify he was no longer part of that detainee population,'' and segregated him from the other captives in Camp Echo -- a 38-cell compound of shed-style buildings used these days primarily for meetings between detainees and their lawyers.

In the case of future convictions, he said, the prison camps is now looking at whether to place them in a separate wing of the two steel-and-cement prison-style buildings -- called Camp Five and Camp Six -- where about 200 of the captives now held without charge are currently held.

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