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Gitmo Trial Begins, but Questions Loom Over Detainee Legal Process

After years of legal delays, the trial for Osama Bin Laden's former driver began Monday at Guantanamo, marking the first full-scale military tribunal at the base since it opened in 2001. Two legal experts examine the future of the detainee program.

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    After almost seven years of false starts and lengthy delays, the first military tribunal of a terrorism suspect got under way today at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    The defendant is Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who served as Osama bin Laden's driver. He was picked up in Afghanistan in November 2001. Today, Hamdan entered a not guilty plea on charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

    But Hamdan's trial comes after the Supreme Court ruled last month that Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts. That ruling, known as Boumediene vs. Bush, has caused further confusion in the legal community.

    Today, Attorney General Michael Mukasey urged Congress to step in.

  • MICHAEL MUKASEY, Attorney General:

    It hardly takes a pessimist to expect that, without guidance from Congress, different judges even on the same court will disagree about how the difficult questions left open by Boumediene should be answered. Such disagreement will in turn lead to a long period of protracted litigation and the possibility of different procedures being used in different cases, until perhaps the Supreme Court intervenes yet again.


    For a closer look at what is next for Salim Hamdan and the nearly 270 other detainees still held at Guantanamo, we turn to Andrew McBride — he's a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Washington — and Neal Katyal, professor at Georgetown University Law School. He represented Salim Hamdan before the Supreme Court in 2006.

    And, professor, why is this case going ahead after the Boumediene decision gave people like Salim Hamdan access to the civilian courts to challenge their detentions?

  • NEAL KATYAL, Georgetown University Law Center:

    Well, we asked the federal courts to temporarily delay this newfangled tribunal that Mr. Hamdan faces, so that it could examine the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling, because this new tribunal that Mr. Hamdan is facing was written by Congress with one single assumption in mind, that the Constitution of the United States doesn't apply at Guantanamo.

    The Supreme Court last month rejected that idea. And, so, we asked the court to delay things. And what the federal court did last week was, it said, well, that type of challenge can be heard after the trial, that, even though these trials are unlike any other that America has had — for example, the judge said that they startlingly admit coerced testimony — he said, let's hear about those challenges after the trial takes place. And, so, that's what is happening right now.

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