Four suspected al Qaeda terrorists will face military trials this week at the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in historic legal proceedings that have not been conducted by the U.S. government since World War II and are unlike anything most Americans face in the criminal justice system, reports the Washington Post. Hearsay evidence will be allowed. Conversations between defendants and lawyers can be monitored in some circumstances. Exculpatory evidence can be kept secret from suspects. And appeals will go to a panel selected by the same government official who helped establish the commissions: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Military defense lawyers and human rights activists have condemned the proceedings as “fundamentally unfair.” But Bush administration officials say they are doing the best they can to balance the nation’s security interests against due process rights. They say they have incorporated key elements of the U.S. justice system in the military commissions: Suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They do not have to testify. Guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspects have been afforded free counsel. “We want to get this right,” said John D. Altenburg Jr., a retired Army major general who is supervising the commissions. Initial hearings are scheduled to begin tomorrow.