Military Tribunals to Begin for 2 Guantanamo Detainees

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U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba - The first military tribunals conducted by the United States since World War II begin here today for two al Qaeda suspects.

The tribunals created by the Bush administration to try enemy combatants in the war on terror will begin with a round of hearings on motions filed in the cases of two of the four men charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes by serving in al Qaeda.

The hearings will move the cases of David M. Hicks, an Australian, and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni and former chauffeur for Osama bin Laden, closer to the trial phase despite a possibility that the entire tribunal system may be dumped if President Bush does not defeat Sen. John Kerry tomorrow.

Sen. John Edwards, Mr. Kerry's running mate, has been quoted saying that if the Massachusetts Democrat were elected, his administration would do away with the tribunals - called military commissions by the Pentagon - which Mr. Bush authorized in November 2001.

Mr. Kerry's alternative plan for dealing with "enemy combatants" is unknown, although Mr. Edwards has said it would be based on the military court-martial system rather than special commissions, which were last used at the end of World War II to try and execute a group of Nazi saboteurs arrested in New York.

Military officials here said yesterday that they're pushing forward with the commissions until told otherwise, but indicated a preparedness to make changes if so ordered by a new commander in chief. …