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Questions about torture could bog down terror trials

Published November 3, 2006


WASHINGTON - Riddled with legal gray areas, U.S. military trials for 14 high-level terror suspects and other detainees could bog down over questions about the CIA's interrogation tactics.

This week, attorneys for dozens of the detainees asked a federal appeals court to strike down portions of the new military trials law, arguing prisoners would be locked out of the regular judicial system.

"These prosecutions will be a nightmare of procedural issues and disagreements," said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in military justice.

The Defense Department is moving to prosecute more than 70 of the estimated 435 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in trials beginning as early as next spring. Officials have already selected 10 detainees for prosecution, and expect to charge another 14 high-level suspects recently transferred by President Bush from CIA custody.

The group includes Abu Zubaydah, believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida cells, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Both faced CIA interrogations that reportedly involve forced nudity, stress positions and mock drowning known as waterboarding.

Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department attorney now a law professor at the University of Maryland, said he thinks public sentiment may be a deciding factor.

"People are going to be all over these proceedings," he said. "The human rights groups are upset. Civil libertarians are upset. You've got the worldwide community looking at this as something coming from outer space. This will not be done under cover of darkness."

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 02:10:17]

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