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Guantanamo military commissions to be more transparent, fair: chief prosecutor

The new chief prosecutor, Army Brig. General Mark Martins [official profile], on Wednesday indicated future military commissions [official website] at Guantanamo [JURIST news archive] will be more transparent and fair to defendants. In addition to congressionally mandated changes like restrictions on the use of evidence obtained through torture or coercion, Martins highlighted a new website [link] where more court documents will be posted more promptly, as well as a viewing area near Washington where relatives of victims and journalists will be able to observe proceedings [AP report] via video feed. Critics, including deputy chief defense counsel Bryan Broyles, have called the restrictions meaningless because prosecutors can use information indirectly derived from torture. Announcing additional undisclosed changes would be made, Martin indicated the outcome of the trials would be legitimate. The heavily criticized tribunals are set to restart soon with the arraignment of Abd al-Nashiri [NYT profile] who is accused of planning the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors and wounded 40.

Unable to close Guantanamo due to resistance in Congress, the Obama administration has revamped its approach. Earlier this week, retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald [official profile] notified lawyers in the trial of five Guantanamo detainees that he will be accepting recommendations until early 2012 on whether the trial should move forward as a death penalty case, ensuring that the case will not go to trial at the naval base until sometime next year [JURIST report]. In June, the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] announced the appointment [JURIST report] of Martins as the new chief war crimes prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay as head of the Office of Military Commissions. Martins, who was serving in Afghanistan as the commander of the Rule of Law Field Force at the time, is a graduate of Harvard Law and former Rhodes Scholar. In April 2010, the DOD released a manual [text, PDF; JURIST report] for military commission procedures under the Military Commissions Act of 2009 [text, PDF]. The manual established the rules of evidence and procedure for the commissions, allowing for the admission of certain hearsay evidence and defining "material support" for terrorism. The release came a month after then Defense Secretary Robert Gates appointed [JURIST report] MacDonald as the convening authority for military commissions. The position oversees military commissions themselves as well as the Office of Military Commissions and, notably, has the power to review and approve charges against "belligerents" pursuant to the Military Commissions Act.

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