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New military commissions manual allows convictions on hearsay, coerced evidence

[JURIST] Terror detainees may be convicted solely on hearsay or coerced evidence and defendants may not present classified evidence unless the government approves its use, according to the Manual for Military Commissions [PDF text; AFPS report], released by the US Defense Department Thursday. The manual describes the procedures to govern upcoming detainee trials under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [PDF text; JURIST news archive]. AP has more.

President George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act [CRS summary] in October after the US Congress approved the bill [JURIST report] in late September. The law became necessary after the US Supreme Court ruled last June that the commissions, as initially constituted by the president, lacked proper legal authorization [JURIST report]. The law provides statutory authorization for military commission trials for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, and US Air Force Colonel Moe Davis, chief prosecutor for the trials, said earlier this month that he expects revised charges to be filed by February [JURIST report].

Under the MCA, the president is authorized to establish military commissions to try unlawful enemy combatants. The commissions are authorized to sentence defendants to death, and defendants are precluded from invoking the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials] as a source of rights during commission proceedings. The law also allows hearsay evidence to be admitted during proceedings, so long as the presiding officer determines it to be reliable.

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