Secret evidence bogs down Gitmo hearings
By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer Sat Feb 9, 9:25 AM ET
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The secrecy shrouding government files on terror suspects is bogging down the Pentagon's effort to hold trials at Guantanamo Bay, with defense attorneys accusing the government of withholding potential exculpatory evidence.
At pretrial hearings this week, attorneys for two al-Qaida
suspects captured in Afghanistan
said they need more access to interrogators, witnesses and records. Prosecutors objected, citing a need to protect the identities of U.S. service members and other security concerns.
The hearings did not resolve the disputes, which appear likely to further delay the launch of first U.S. war-crime tribunals since the World War II era. The first detainees were charged more than three years ago, but repeated legal challenges have kept any from going to trial.
"We're going to have to see how willing the judges are to interpret the rules so as to give defense counsel some kind of chance to actually defend their clients," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, a defense attorney for detainee Omar Khadr. "That means litigating these discovery issues and that takes time."
Trials are scheduled to begin this spring for Khadr, who is accused of hurling a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in 2002, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden who allegedly also delivered weapons for al-Qaida.
They are minor figures compared with the 15 "high-value" detainees — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — who are among those expected to face charges. Secrecy may be even a bigger issue in their trials.
The New York Times reported Saturday that military prosecutors are nearing the end of preparations for the "first sweeping case" against as many as six Guantanamo detainees suspected in the Sept. 11 plot — Mohammed likely among them.
The law authorizing the war-crimes tribunals allows the use of classified evidence, and prosecutors say they fulfill their obligation to share it with the other side. But some defense attorneys say the government uses too narrow an interpretation of what information is relevant and should be provided to the defense.
Classified evidence will likely play an increasingly central role as the government forges ahead with plans to prosecute about 80 of the roughly 275 men held at this isolated U.S. Navy base on suspicion of terrorism or links to the Taliban or al-Qaida.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said the government's decisions to classify evidence often reflect a need to protect U.S. forces still fighting in Afghanistan.
"The hearings this week demonstrated some of the complexities involved in a new type of war against a new type of enemy," he said, while expressing optimism. "On balance, we're making progress and moving forward."
In Hamdan's case, his attorneys asked the military judge to provide them access to government employees who interrogated Hamdan after his capture in November 2001. One of his attorneys, Charles Swift, said the defense wants to determine whether Hamdan made any statements through coercion.
Hamdan's defense team said they have been provided with only partial, incriminating portions of his interrogation transcripts — an accusation that prosecutors denied.
"Every statement that he has made we have provided," said Army Col. Larry Morris, the chief prosecutor for the military tribunals.
In Khadr's case, Kuebler said the government has refused to put defense lawyers in touch with several eyewitnesses to the 2002 firefight in Afghanistan which Khadr, who was then 15, allegedly hurled a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer.
At one of the hearings this week, the government inadvertently released a witness account that raised doubt over whether Khadr threw the grenade. Prosecutors later said they had planned to hand out a redacted version, but Kuebler said he believed the government meant to keep the witness account from the public.
"There's no openness about this process," he said.
The military commissions, as the tribunals are called, convicted one detainee — David Hicks of Australia — but it was through a plea bargain before his trial even began.
Labels: guantanamo trials
People Do Not Forget
"People do not forget the death of their fellows;
they do not forget torture and mutilations;
they do not forget injustice;
they do not forget oppression;
they do not forget the terrorism of mighty powers;
they not only do not forget, they also strike back
Harold Pinter; Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech,
Labels: People Do Not Forget
Mass grave discovered near Baghdad
1 hour, 18 minutes ago
BAGHDAD - About 50 dead bodies were discovered Tuesday in a mass grave northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
U.S.-backed Sunni tribesmen found the grave while patrolling the village of Jazeerah, 15 miles west of Samarra near Lake Tharthar, said Col. Mazin Younis Hussein, commander of the Samarra support force, a group of local men working with U.S. forces.
Some of the bodies were severely decomposed, suggesting they had been buried months ago, while other victims appeared to have been killed recently, said Samarra police Lt. Muthana Shakir, who visited the site Tuesday and saw the bodies.
As many as 200 bodies have been unearthed in recent months from mass graves around Lake Tharthar. Al-Qaida in Iraq controlled the area, as well as huge swaths of Iraq's western deserts, until being ousted early this year in an uprising by local tribes.
Also Tuesday, at least three Iraqis were killed and one child was injured after American soldiers stormed a tiny one-room house north of Baghdad and opened fire, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
Iraqi police, relatives and neighbors said a couple and their 19-year-old son were shot to death in their beds late Monday. But the U.S. military said soldiers came under fire and killed two suspected members of a terrorist cell in self-defense. It said it did not know who shot the woman or the child.
The U.S. military reported only three dead, but Iraqi police said two young girls were wounded and one died Tuesday at a hospital.
It was the second time in as many days that the U.S. military conceded involvement in the death of Iraqi civilians.
On Monday, the military said it had accidentally killed nine Iraqi civilians, including a child, in an airstrike targeting al-Qaida in Iraq south of Baghdad.
In both cases, the military acknowledged involvement in the killings only in response to media inquiries.
Both incidents raised fresh concerns about the military's ability to distinguish friend from foe — and to protect civilians in the line of fire — in its stepped-up campaign to uproot insurgents from Sunni areas around Baghdad.
The latest deaths occurred in the village of Adwar, 10 miles south of Tikrit. The predominantly Sunni area is home to many former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, and has been the frequent site of U.S. raids against Sunni militants.
The U.S. military confirmed the raid in an e-mail to The Associated Press, saying its troops came under small arms fire while entering the building, and that soldiers shot dead two men inside. A woman was killed and one child was injured, but it was unclear who shot them, the military said.
It said the nighttime raid was based on intelligence gleaned from an informant — opening the possibility that the military was misled into targeting the family, perhaps out of local Iraqis' tribal or sectarian motives.
The incident remains under investigation, the military said.
A cousin of the victims, Kareem Talea Hamad, 20, said he watched the killings from his house across the street, and gave a different account of events than the American military's version.
Hamad said U.S. soldiers opened the door to the small brick house and immediately opened fire, killing its unarmed residents: father Ali Hamad Shihab, 55, his wife Naeimah Ali Sulaiman, 40, and their son Diaa Ali, who was a member of a U.S.-backed neighborhood watch group.
Such groups, composed mainly of Sunni fighters partnering with the U.S. to oust al-Qaida from their hometowns, have been targeted by other militants because of their alliance with U.S. and Iraqi forces.
The head of Adwar's Awakening Council, Col. Mutasim Ahmed, confirmed that Diaa Ali was killed. He also offered an explanation for the discrepancy between the U.S. military's account of what happened, and that of Iraqi police and witnesses.
"It seems that some gunmen were positioned near the house and they opened fire on the Americans who returned fire," Ahmed said.
Two other daughters were wounded and transported to hospitals, and one died Tuesday morning, Hamad, the cousin, said. An Iraqi police officer, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed Hamad's account.
A surviving daughter, Nawal Ali, 16, said she was inside the house at the time of the raid, and that an Iraqi interpreter working for U.S. forces tried to stop the American soldiers from killing her parents.
The unidentified interpreter rushed into the house after he heard gunshots, Ali said. "He shouted at the Americans, saying `What the heck are you are doing?'" she said.
"Then he pushed them away after they killed my family," Ali said. She credited the interpreter for saving the lives of two of her younger siblings, 5-year-old Hamzah and 6-year-old Asmaa.
Witnesses who went to the family's house early Tuesday saw three dead bodies, laid out in their blood-soaked beds. Bullet casings littered the ground.
Relatives and neighbors gathered at the house to mourn the family, and loudspeakers at a nearby mosque announced plans for a funeral.
Later Tuesday, the U.S. military issued a statement saying it "regrets the loss of an innocent civilian and the wounding of a child." It did not name the father and son, but claimed U.S. soldiers killed the men in self-defense.
In Taji, north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives Tuesday near the convoy of a sheik working with U.S. forces, killing two of his followers, police said. Those killed were members of the Taji Awakening Council, a group of Sunni tribesmen north of Baghdad who have partnered with the Americans to oust militants from their hometowns.
The suicide attacker was standing near a cluster of shops waiting for Sheik Sahthir al-Khlifawi's convoy, when awakening council members spotted him, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The men approached him after spotting wires dangling from his jacket, and the man then exploded himself, the officer said.
Al-Khlifawi said one of those killed was his nephew.
"We have been expecting such terrorist attacks after we received several threats. I gave orders to intensify security measures in the area," the sheik said.
Separately, the U.S. military said it detained eight suspected militants Tuesday in operations to disrupt al-Qaida in Iraq across northern parts of the country.
Iraqi national police force patrols predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Sadiyah in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday,...
Labels: Mass Grave - Baghdad