Prosecutor questions tribunal makeup

Top Pentagon official calls for ousting three colonels

The World

September 17, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

MIAMI - The Pentagon's chief prosecutor has quietly called for three of six colonels to be removed from the panel judging war crimes cases at Guantanamo - a move that could call into question the Bush administration's plan for trying suspects in the war on terror.

Army Col. Robert Swann made the surprise request Sept. 7. It was made public this week.

Swann agreed with defense lawyers that the three officers are unsuitable to act as judge and jury in the cases.

One key issue is whether U.S. military officers who helped capture the alleged terrorists could be impartial. He said the chief judge, known as the presiding officer, should also consider stepping down.

"This is the opportunity for [the military] to change the rules. I think they ... need to re-evaluate the entire process," said Miami defense attorney Neal Sonnett, who was an American Bar Association observer at the first tribunal hearings.

Sonnett, as well as the Pentagon-appointed uniformed defense team, have criticized the commissions as sidestepping U.S. military law in favor of a new administration format for trying prisoners captured overseas after the Sept. 11 attacks.

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