Shift terror trials to U.S., Gates urges

He fears tribunals at Guantanamo might be considered tainted

March 30, 2007|By Peter Spiegel | Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Washington -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he has been pressing the Bush administration to move war crimes trials of suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to courts in the United States because other countries might consider the military tribunals tainted.

No matter how open the trials are under a new law, Gates said, they might not be deemed credible by the outside world because of prior military practices at Guantanamo, which included interrogation techniques that allowed physical coercion.

"My own view is that because of things that happened earlier at Guantanamo, there is a taint about it," Gates told a House Appropriations subcommittee. "I felt that no matter how transparent, no matter how open the trials, if they took place at Guantanamo, in the international community they would lack credibility."

Gates, who repeated his support for closing the prison, has expressed concern previously that past abuse there has harmed the reputation of the United States abroad.

He made his comments as the Guantanamo trials resume this week after a yearlong hiatus.

The first man to plead guilty in the trials, Australian David Hicks, is scheduled to appear before a tribunal at Guantanamo today to admit specific crimes and receive his sentence.

Hicks, a 31-year-old former kangaroo skinner, will be asked about 24 specific allegations on a Pentagon charge sheet, including weapons and tactics training with reputed terror groups in Albania, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and meetings with Osama bin Laden and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Hicks pleaded guilty Monday in a surprising reversal after his lawyers spent four hours wrangling with the military judge in the case, Marine Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann.

The administration has sought to portray Hicks' conviction as a sign that the new tribunals are legitimate. Gates' comments could hamper the effort.

Gates has been widely credited by senior Pentagon officials and members of Congress for bringing to the department a style more open and pragmatic than that of his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Within weeks of taking office, Gates killed a $102 million plan to build a large courthouse at Guantanamo, a proposal first made while Rumsfeld was at the Pentagon. Gates called the proposal "ridiculous" and instead ordered buildings to be refurbished at about a 10th the cost.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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