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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 23:55 GMT
US spells out terrorist tribunals
World Trade Center remnants
New powers may be used for the 11 September attacks
By the BBC's Mike Donkin in Washington

US Vice President Dick Cheney has been spelling out how foreign nationals suspected of terrorism can now be tried by special military tribunals, rather than America's civil courts.

Somebody who comes into the United States of America illegally, who conducts a terrorist operation killing thousands of innocent Americans is not a lawful combatant

Vice President Dick Cheney

New powers of extraordinary emergency declared by President George W Bush would, Mr Cheney said, apply to suspected members of the al-Qaeda network, or anyone else believed to have been involved in attacks designed to kill Americans.

The military tribunals would by-pass the US criminal justice system, its rules of evidence, and its constitutional guarantees.

These rapid reaction courts, the vice president said, would try non-citizens believed to have carried out attacks against the country, or to have provided sanctuary for terrorists.

Lincoln links

Mr Cheney said there was a precedent for such courts going back to 1865, when conspirators tried to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

President Roosevelt
Roosevelt used the courts during WWII

And military tribunals were used again in World War II, when eight German saboteurs landed in Long Island and in Florida to bomb American targets.

"President Roosevelt signed an order, established a tribunal, had these individuals tried - they were given a fair trial, prosecuted under this military tribunal and executed in relatively rapid order," said Mr Cheney.

"And that procedure was upheld by the Supreme Court when it was challenged later on."

Different rules

He also insisted that the military tribunals would afford a fair trial. He admitted some would still claim this was a dramatic departure from US jurisprudence but he made no apologies.

"Somebody who comes into the United States of America illegally, who conducts a terrorist operation killing thousands of innocent Americans - men, women and children - is not a lawful combatant," he said.

"They don't deserve to be treated as a prisoner of war. They don't deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process".

President Bush will himself decide which system of justice an individual suspect would face.

The BBC's Emil Petrie
"Civil liberties groups have criticised the order"
See also:

29 Sep 01 | Americas
UN backs anti-terrorism moves
27 Sep 01 | Americas
US presses UN over terrorism
26 Oct 01 | Americas
US anti-terror laws draw fire
10 Oct 01 | Americas
America's 'most wanted terrorists'
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