Thursday, August 03, 2006

Guantanamo detainees may remain indefinitely: Gonzalez

Yahoo! News
Guantanamo detainees may remain indefinitely: Gonzalez

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the US government could "indefinitely" hold foreign 'enemy combatants' at sites like the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," said Gonzales, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said.

Yet neither the Bush administration nor the US military wants "to remain the world's jailers indefinitely," he said.

A Supreme Court ruling last month declared that government of President George W. Bush had overstepped his authority in forming military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

That authority, the court said, belongs to Congress, and the Senate committee is now hearing testimony on how the Guantanamo prisoners should be dealt with.

Gonzales said he was waiting for a green light from Congress to reinstate military tribunals to try war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Gonzales has proposed minor modifications to rules that inmate attorneys have decried as violating the rights of their clients.

The proposed rules would allow hearsay evidence to be introduced, including evidence obtained under duress, unless a military judge considers it unreliable, Gonzales said.

To prevent terrorists from having access to confidential information, judges handling the cases must be able to temporarily exclude defendants from their own trial if deemed necessary for national security.

And if a defendant faces the death penalty, he will face a panel of 12 judges who must rule unanimously for a death sentence to be issued.

Around 450 prisoners are being held in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- some for years -- without charges being brought. Human and civil rights lawyers have brought suit on behalf of detainees, many of them picked up as suspected Al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters on Afghanistan's battlefields.

The Washington Post, quoting anonymous Bush administration officials, reported Wednesday that the White House also hopes to allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to the military court's jurisdiction.

Senators did not question Gonzales directly about this, though the attorney general gave assurances that no US citizen would face these courts.