Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Court Puts off Guantanamo War-Crimes Case ; Supreme Court Declines to Take Up the Case Involving Osama Bin Laden's Driver, Delaying Several Trials

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Court Puts off Guantanamo War-Crimes Case ; Supreme Court Declines to Take Up the Case Involving Osama Bin Laden's Driver, Delaying Several Trials

Article excerpt

In declining to take up a potential landmark case challenging the legality of the Pentagon's terrorist tribunal process, the US Supreme Court may have delayed by as much as a year the commencement of war-crimes trials of suspected Al Qaeda members at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.

The trials were expected to begin in the fall of 2004 but were postponed in the wake of a November ruling by a federal judge that the military commission process was in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The November ruling came in the case of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Mr. Hamdan is accused of involvement in terrorism, a charge he denies. He was set to become one of the first Guantanamo detainees to stand trial before a military commission. But the entire process was struck down Nov. 8 by US District Judge James Robertson in Washington.

In an order released Tuesday, the Supreme Court without explanation declined to take up the case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, prior to the appeal being heard by a federal appeals court panel in Washington. That court is set to hear oral argument on March 8.

Once the appeals court rules, either party may once again ask the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Legal analysts say it could take as long as a year for the case to work its way through the appeals court process and back up to the Supreme Court.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Michael Shavers, says four commission cases are being held in abeyance pending the outcome of Hamdan's March 8 hearing. No decision has yet been made on whether to resume commission trials should the government prevail on March 8, he says.

Major Shavers says commission officials are continuing to work on other cases. "Things are not at a standstill," he says.

But for Hamdan, the decision means delay. "Mr. Hamdan and some of the other commission defendants have waited over three years to have their trial," says his lawyer, Neal Katyal, who is also a professor at Georgetown Law Center. …

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