The special trials established to determine the guilt or innocence of
prisoners at the U.S. military prison in Cuba are unlawful and cannot
continue in their current form, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

In a setback for the Bush administration, U.S. District Judge James
Robertson found that detainees at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
may be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions and therefore entitled
to the protections of international and military law — which the
government has declined to grant them.

A U.S. Army soldier stands guard at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Naval Base,
where some detainees have been held for nearly three years. (Pool Photo
Mark Wilson)

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the first alleged al Qaeda member
facing trial before what the government calls “military commissions.” The
decision upends — for now — the administration’s strategy for prosecuting
hundreds of alleged al Qaeda and Taliban detainees accused of terrorist

Human rights advocates, foreign governments and the detainees’ attorneys
have contended that the rules governing military commissions are unfairly
stacked against the defendants. But Robertson’s ruling is the first by a
federal judge to assert that the commissions, which took nearly two years
to get underway, are invalid.

The Bush administration denounced the ruling as wrongly giving special
rights to terrorists and announced that it will ask a higher court for an
emergency stay and reversal of Robertson’s decision. Military officers at
Guantanamo immediately halted commission proceedings in light of the ruling.

“We vigorously disagree. . . . The judge has put terrorism on the same
legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war,” said Justice Department
spokesman Mark Corallo. “The Constitution entrusts to the president the
responsibility to safeguard the nation’s security. The Department of
Justice will continue to defend the president’s ability and authority under
the Constitution to fulfill that duty…


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