WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Justice Department is seeking to open the first Guantanamo war crimes trial next week, court documents released Tuesday showed after a judge urged the Bush administration and defendants to speed up case preparations.
Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former chauffeur and bodyguard held for more than six years, is to face charges of conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism beginning Monday in front of a military war tribunal, the nation's first war-crimes tribunal since the end of World War II.
The Supreme Court's June decision allowing Guantanamo inmates to challenge their detention in civilian courts pushed the federal court in Washington to name a judge, James Robertson, to determine whether the first trial could go ahead.
On Thursday he heard from both sides, including Hamdan's attorneys, who sought to stop his trial while he challenges the validity of the military tribunal set up by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
That system was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2006, only to see Congress pass legislation to legalize it four months later.
In a written document urging the trial to go ahead, the Justice Department stated that "such rights for an alien charged with war crimes are utterly unprecedented" in the tribunals.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 "unquestionnably confers jurisdiction on the military court to try petitioner," the department argued, adding that there was "substantial public interest" in seeing the administration take the cases to trial.
Citing the charges against Hamdan, it stated in effect that "the public has a strong interest in seeing such individuals brought to justice as soon as possible."
It also noted the "irony" of Hamdan's legal motion to suspend the process, as about 260 detainees challenging their detention have "urged the judges in this District to hasten the arrival of their day in court.
"For petitioner Hamdan, that day has arrived," the filing said.
Meanwhile, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, Canadian teenager Omar Khadr, was shown sobbing and begging for help as he was interrogated at the prison by Canadian agents in 2003 in the very first video glimpse of any such questioning released on Tuesday.
Khadr, accused of killing a US soldier in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was 15 years old, faces trial by military tribunal in October.
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