Trials of detainees accused of terrorist acts
came a step closer today, following three moves announced by senior Pentagon officials. The Defense Department announced the selection of key personnel associated with military commissions and the issuance of a new instruction that creates a Military Commission Review Panel.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has designated four people to serve on
the panel. They are: Griffin B. Bell, U.S. Attorney General under President
Carter; Edward G. Biester, a judge with the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks
County, Pa.; William T. Coleman Jr., a former Transportation secretary; and
Frank Williams, the chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The men will serve for two-year terms, and will be commissioned as Army
major generals during their terms.
Officials also released the instruction governing the board. Under the
instruction, panel members will review the military commission proceedings.
“The panel may consider written and oral arguments by the defense, the
prosecution and the government of the nation of which the accused is a
citizen,” said a senior defense official. “If the review panel finds that a
material error of law has occurred, the review panel will return the case
for further proceedings, which may include dismissal of charges.”
The panel may make recommendations to the defense secretary, including in
sentencing matters. Written opinions of the review panel will be published,
officials said. The results of all military commission trials will
automatically go to the review panel.
Establishing the panel should go a long way to allaying fears that many
critics have that the process does not have enough safeguards, officials
The senior official announced that that Rumsfeld has named retired Army Maj.
Gen. John D. Altenburg Jr. as the appointing authority for military
commissions. He will be responsible for approving charges for individuals
charged under the commissions, appointing military commission members and
approving plea agreements.
Altenburg replaces Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in the position.
Officials said the job now requires someone who can devote all his time to
Rumsfeld also appointed Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway as legal
advisor for the appointing authority. Hemingway had retired in 1996, but was
recalled to active duty in August 2003 for the job.
The military commissions were set up to establish a process that allows full
and fair trials for those accused of terrorism, while protecting national
security. On July 3, President Bush determined that six enemy combatants are
subject to the military commissions. Two of those detainees have received
defense counsels. No trials have been yet scheduled, and officials would not
hazard a guess as to when trials may begin.