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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
US moves to try Cuba prisoners
US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Guantanamo Bay detainee cases reviewed for possible trial
Prisoners detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are a step closer to standing trial following two key legal appointments made by the Americans.

The Pentagon has named a chief prosecutor and defence counsel for trials before military commissions.

The new chief prosecutor, Colonel Fred Borch, said he was looking at more than 10 cases, but the final decision on which prisoner to try rested with President George W Bush.

Colonel Will Gunn, the defence counsel, said he would push for trials to be as open as possible, saying the US would be judged on the fairness of the process.

Human rights groups have criticised the US for leaving the 680 or so detainees at Guantanamo Bay - held there since the war in Afghanistan as "unlawful combatants" - in legal limbo.

Some civil liberties activists fear the suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban members will not get a fair hearing, and have attacked provisions such as the ability to close hearings when secret evidence is given.

Michael Ratner, of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, told Reuters news agency: "To some extent, these things are not set up to give a fair trial, but set up to compel guilty pleas out of people."

Open trials

The new defence counsel said he would ensure his office was insulated from any possible political pressure from superiors at the Pentagon.

"We don't have a group of people who will roll over and go with whatever the prosecution presents," said Colonel Gunn.

George W Bush shakes hands with a sailor after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln
President Bush has the final say on whether to order military trials

He also said he would push for trials to be as open as possible.

"I see that as in the best interest of the nation as a whole. We will be judged from the world community on whether or not the process was fair and just," he said.

There are now about a dozen people in the Pentagon office preparing for trials of terrorism suspects. Civilian defence lawyers are also being sought.

When asked by reporters how many cases the prosecution had begun to look at, Colonel Borch said: "We're out of the single digits but I can't give you anything more precise than that.

"And I really hesitate to do that because none of these cases exist until the president makes the decision that there's jurisdiction."

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22 May 03  |  South Asia
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15 May 03  |  Middle East
More prisoners sent to Cuba base
09 May 03  |  Americas
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05 May 03  |  Americas
Guantanamo Bay
28 Nov 02  |  Archive

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