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Guantanamo military judge unsure of what laws govern detainee trial

[JURIST] A US military judge presiding over one of the military commission proceedings [US DOD backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that resumed [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay Tuesday appeared unsure of exactly what body of law would be applied in the case against Abdul Zahir [JURIST report], one of ten detainees who have been charged with war crimes. When asked by Zahir's military counsel, judge Col. Robert Chester said "Obviously military law is going to have some application. I suppose we will look at military criminal law and federal criminal laws and procedures." Asked to be more specific, he later shot back "I'm not going to speculate as to what is or what is not controlling." No trial date was set, and Zahir did not enter a plea.

The Guantanamo tribunals are the first military commission proceedings since World War II; last month the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Hamdan v. Rumsfield [Duke Law Backgrounder] on whether such tribunals are legal as currently constituted. Legal scholars have argued that the US government has confused matters by trying terrorism cases under the law of war, in the process alleging crimes by some detainees - such as "conspiracy to commit war crimes" - that do not exist under either US or international law. Read a JURIST op-ed by former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer on the Hamdan case and the choice of laws issue. AP has more.

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