Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Terror prosecution trips over latest hurdle

Today's withdrawal of charges against a Guantanamo detainee believed to have intended to join the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States demonstrates just how outrageous the military tribunal system for accused terror suspects actually is. The Pentagon dropped charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi national held at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without comment Tuesday as prosecutors and defense attorneys prepared for trial. Trial still is scheduled for five others accused of planning the attacks, in which airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia, killing thousands in 2001. The defendants include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged to have been the mastermind behind the attacks. Trial is expected to begin within 120 days. The Pentagon did not explain its decision, but officials apparently decided to drop charges against al-Qahtani because evidence against him was obtained through the use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that has been criticized internationally as torture. Such evidence, which includes confessions, would not be allowed in U.S. courts. Lawyers for the detainees have raised this challenge and will not doubt bring similar protests to the trial, which has the potential for getting all evidence against the detainees thrown out. The Bush administration contends that the Guantanamo detainees are "enemy combatants," not regular criminal defendants, and constitutional rights guaranteed by U.S. courts are not applicable. This interpretation has not been tested in court, but is certain to as the tribunals begin. Qahtani never joined the hijackers in Boston because he was detained by border-control agents at the Canadian border, prosecutors said.

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