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Guantanamo Hearings May Begin Today

The Wall St. Journal (subscription only) reports that hearings for Guantanamo detainees may begin today. First off, put aside any prior concept you may have about court hearings where there is a judge, a prosecutor and a defense counsel-- and where the defendant has the right to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence. The Administration is holding fast to its belief that it need not provide such protections to the detainees. Here's what they get:

Under the procedure, which went under a dry run yesterday, with military personnel playing the part of detainees, prisoners will appear before a three-man panel of senior officers. That panel will examine the dossiers assembled after hours of interrogations, give the detainees a chance to speak and then determine whether they should be set free. The advocates will be U.S. government employees, who, unlike lawyers, will not be honor-bound to serve the best interests of their client.

Under the current plan, three separate tribunals will hear 72 cases a week so each detainee can get a hearing within four months. Unlike traditional civilian justice, the government will have one big advantage: The burden of proving innocence will rest with the detainees. Detainees won't get lawyers, but "personal representatives," military officials without any legal background, who will offer advice to prisoners, lay out unclassified portions of their dossiers and help inmates make their case to the tribunal.

What if a detainee wants to call a witness to repudiate the charges? It will be very difficult if not impossible:

"We're in Guantanamo. We don't have commercial air traffic, we don't have hotels, we don't have motels, we don't have rental cars," says Navy Secretary Gordon England, who is overseeing the process. "You're not going to be able to just bring in anybody from anywhere."

Did we mention the hearings are closed to the press?

As for the detainees whom the Government has already decided to subject to future trial by military tribunal, the situation is just as bleak:

Lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees can barely disguise their contempt for the Pentagon's latest plan of justice. "It's a farce," sneers Clive Stafford-Smith, whose New Orleans-based organization, Justice in Exile, represents several detainees in U.S. federal court. He says if the tribunals do result in releases it will only be because the Pentagon wants a measure of political cover before it releases men it has determined are innocent.

The Wall Street Journal has been providing top notch coverage of the detainees and the court decisions regarding them. If you can get your hands on a subscription, it's worth it. And don't feel guilty about bypassing the conservative editorial pages.

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