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Afghan progress sparks tribunal debate

By KATHY GAMBRELL, UPI Washington Reporter   |   Nov. 25, 2001 at 2:28 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Reports that portions of the Afghan city of Konduz fell to Northern Alliance forces, leaving the Taliban in control of only about one-quarter of Afghanistan, increased debate Sunday over President Bush's decision to authorize military courts to try suspected terrorists.

"There has to be justice, and this will be justice, and this is, as President Bush said, aimed at terrorists to fight this war and win it," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The continued progress of the U.S.-led Afghan war has sparked debate over the fate of those captured who are suspected of association with al Qaida, the group affiliated with accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. And it also has raised questions about the increasing amount of President Bush's war-time powers which include military courts, loss of attorney-client priviege by terror suspects and what is being called by civil libertarians mass round-ups and detaining of more than 1,000 people of Middle Eastern descent.

Most controversial has been the president's order establishing military tribunals. The order directs U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to establish one or more military commissions to try individuals believed to be members of the Muslim extremist group al Qaida who have engaged in, or aided, or planned acts of international terrorism against the United States, or harbored anyone doing so.

The U.S. military has been has been aggressively hunting for Saudi exile bin Laden and members of al Qaida. Bin Laden has been implicated in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on Washington and New York City that killed some 3,000 people.

Bin Laden's exact location is unknown but it is thought he is hiding in one of the underground cave networks that weaves throughout the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., appearing on ABC's "Face the Nation," said Bush should have more faith in the American process and allow congressional oversight of the courts. Leahy said he had concerns about the burden of proof.

"It can be far less than a reasonable doubt, if they want. The evidence can be exactly what they want. They could deny, if they want, under this ruling, they could deny any access to defense counsel for the person charged. They could deny any access to the information they're going to use against him," Leahy said.

Leahy said he believed that suspects accused of involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks should be tried in international courts similar to the one that tried the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects, or an international tribunal at the Hague such as the one in which former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is being tried. Milosevic who faces trial for genocide, has insisted he does not recognize the tribunal, contending it was created illegally by the United Nations Security Council rather than the General Assembly.

Shelby said extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.

"We are at a war, in a war, and I believe President Bush is on the right track here," he said. "Now, we haven't seen all the details. We've seen some of them of what would happen, how the military tribunal would work. But on the other hand, I think of the victims in New York, I think of the victims over there in the Pentagon. I think of the victims in our embassies, I think of the victims in the Khobar Towers," Shelby said.

Reports from the region Sunday indicated that Northern Alliance forces entered Konduz Sunday evening and pushed Taliban fighters into the western part of the city. The alliance had captured a key strategic village earlier, about 10 miles east of Konduz.

"We can say Konduz is liberated," said Northern Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on CBS's "Face the Nation." He added rebels were faced with "one pocket of resistance."

Abdullah said rebel forces would give amnesty to Taliban soliders who had not committed war crimes, but their leaders would be treated on a case-by-case basis. Those like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban and a key associate of bin Laden, would be considered war criminals, Abdullah said.

Shelby said he was disturbed that Kenton Keith, former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, said on Sunday that Omar would not be apprehended or tried either in an international court or by a U.S. military tribunal.

"Well, it's troubling, to say the least," he said. "I don't know what's going to happen, and I'm not sure the ambassador knows for sure. There's a lot going on there between the Northern alliance and the Taliban. But at the end of the day, someone like the Taliban leader I believe should be brought to justice," Shelby said. He added that Omar should stand trial "in a military tribunal, if we could get our hands on him. If not, I believe the Northern Alliance will have some scores to settle."

European governments previously have objected to the United States about its use of capital punishment, and the issue could complicate extradition of terror suspects, according to European diplomats in Washington. All member states of the European Union are signatories to the European Declaration of Human Rights, which outlaws the use of capital punishment. Political analysts say Spain and other European countries have declared that they would not extradite prisoners to the United States unless they stand trial in a conventional criminal court.

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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