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Military Prosecutor: 66 Ready to Be Tried at Gitmo

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Guantánamo Bay, July 14, 2009: Navy Captain John Murphy, the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay, announced today that military prosecutors were ready to proceed with cases against 66 of the more than 220 security detainees held at the naval facility in Guantánamo Bay.

Speaking to more than two dozen reporters at Guantánamo, Murphy said that he was "personally comfortable" that the government could mount a case that would not depend on evidence gathered through the use of coercion.

"We have 66 viable cases," Captain Murphy said. He refrained from commenting on whether the government might seek to bring some of those cases to trial in federal civilian courts as it did in the case of Ahmed Ghailani, the alleged East Africa embassy bomber.

The chief military prosecutor went on to say that he "would not draw timelines" regarding what evidence would and would not be used. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 currently allows for evidence obtained by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to be admitted if it was obtained before December 30, 2005 and meets other criteria.

Independent observers said they were concerned that the prosecutor's office would be making decisions about what evidence was appropriate and what evidence was not appropriate to use without any independent review, because the statute governing the commissions continues to permit coerced evidence under certain circumstances.

"They say repeatedly that they are not going to rely on evidence that was obtained using coercion," said Vic Hansen, a former Army Judge Advocate General officer who is observing this week's proceedings for the National Institute of Military Justice. "Well, it's the prosecution who is making that call alone without any transparency."

Captain Murphy said that the prosecution had developed "a standard" to ensure that no evidence obtained improperly would be used in the trials. But he declined to elaborate on that standard. In a Senate debate over proposed legislation to change the statute authorizing the military commissions, the Obama administration has suggested--among other changes--imposing a voluntariness standard that would presumably exclude coerced evidence. Absent such an amendment, existing law allows the military judge to admit evidence obtained by coercion.

"What it comes down to is more or less the government saying, 'just trust us,'" said Hansen.

David Danzig - Deputy Program Director at Human Rights First - is in Cuba to monitor the proceedings and report back on events as they unfold.