The U.S. is moving ahead with plans to bring captured al-Qaeda members, many of whom are Arabs, before military tribunals where they will face the death penalty. Work on preparing the tribunals is nearly finished, and the U.S. Army has started to separate potential defendants from the mass of captives in Afghanistan. Persons that the U.S. decides to try will be shipped to a remote, high-security U.S. base in Cuba.
Unlike the civilian courts in the USA, in which defendants have very strong protection, military tribunals operate in a completely different fashion. The judges are American military officers, the burden of proof needed to convict a man is much lighter, and there is a strong possibility of execution for the prisoners. If a captive is found guilty, there is no possibility of appeal to a civilian or international court.
U.S. President Bush established the military tribunals in an executive Military Order on November 13, 2001. In the order, the president wrote: “it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.”
President Bush defined that the tribunals could try any person who was not an American citizen, and who was suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda or even a non-American who had assisted or harbored (hosted) an al-Qaeda member.
The military tribunals have raised intense criticism in the U.S. and internationally. When the Spanish president visited the United States recently, it became clear that Spain would not want to extradite suspects to the U.S. if it meant handing them over to the military tribunals. The U.S. has responded to the criticism by indicating it would change to rules to make the tribunals more fair to the al-Qaeda defendants. For example, newspaper reports have circulated that the tribunals will be able to sentence defendants to death only by unanimous verdict, and not by a two-thirds majority as now.
While the U.S. continues to prepare for the tribunals, more al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who the Americans might like to put on trial are being separated from the mass of captives in Afghanistan and being readied for shipment to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. (www.albawaba.com )