Source : -The Age

August 3, 2006

The US government could hold foreign "enemy combatants" indefinitely at sites like Guantanamo Bay, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says.

But Gonzales said today the administration would propose trying enemy combatants based on military court martial procedures, with a number of key changes.

Those include admitting hearsay evidence, limiting rights against self-incrimination before a trial, and limiting defendants' access to classified information.

Evidence obtained under duress would also be allowed, unless a military judge considers it unreliable, he said.

"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," Gonzales told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said.

Around 450 prisoners are being held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Among the detainees is Australian David Hicks, 30, who has been detained since shortly after he was captured allegedly fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US.

Hicks, formerly of Adelaide, is facing trial on charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder and aiding the enemy.

The changes proposed by Gonzales still fall short of what the Democrats say would meet the US Supreme Court's demands for fair trials.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat, said they would leave the new trial system vulnerable to another rebuke by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court last month declared that President George W. Bush's administration had overstepped his authority in forming military commissions to try Guantanamo Bay detainees.

That authority, the court said, belongs to Congress, and the Senate committee is now hearing testimony on how the Guantanamo prisoners should be dealt with.

Gonzales said neither the Bush administration nor the US military wants "to remain the world's jailers indefinitely."

Gonzales said he was waiting for a green light from Congress to reinstate military tribunals to try war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

To prevent terrorists from having access to confidential information, judges handling the cases must be able to temporarily exclude defendants from their own trial if deemed necessary for national security.

And if a defendant faces the death penalty, he would face a panel of 12 judges who must rule unanimously for a death sentence to be issued.

Human and civil rights lawyers have brought suit on behalf of detainees, many of them picked up as suspected Al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters on Afghanistan's battlefields.

The Washington Post, quoting anonymous Bush administration officials, reported Wednesday that the White House also hopes to allow the secretary of defence to add crimes at will to the military court's jurisdiction.

Senators did not question Gonzales directly about this, though the attorney general gave assurances that no US citizen would face these courts.


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