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Lawyer: Guantanamo rules violate Bush's order for fair trials

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his appointees set rules that violate President Bush's order to hold fair trials for prisoners charged with terrorism in the Guantanamo tribunals, a military defense lawyer said yesterday.

''We can't help it that the secretary of defense and his [aides] have messed this thing up, but they have," the lawyer, Army Major Tom Fleener, told the presiding officer at one of the hearings.

''If the rules don't provide for a full and fair trial, they violate the president's order," Fleener said.

Fleener was trying to persuade the presiding officer, Colonel Peter Brownback, to let a Yemeni defendant act as his own attorney on charges of conspiring to attack civilians and destroy property.

Tribunal rules set by the Pentagon require the defendants to have US military lawyers who are authorized to see secret evidence that the accused may not be allowed to view. Pentagon officials have refused defense requests to allow self-representation, which Fleener called a fundamental right in nearly every court on earth.

Fleener was appointed to defend Ali Hamza al Bahlul, an acknowledged Al Qaeda member charged with conspiring to commit terrorism by acting as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and making Al Qaeda recruiting videos.

Bahlul has refused to cooperate with any lawyer appointed by the US military. He asked to act as his own attorney or to have a Yemeni lawyer, and declared a boycott when the request was denied during a March hearing. He did not attend his hearing yesterday at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Fleener said Bahlul cannot get a fair trial unless the rules change. ''As the world looks at this system, it's going to have no legitimacy whatsoever," he said.

Defense lawyers have questioned whether another rule violated Bush's order by changing the role of the presiding officer. The president's order said tribunal members would all serve as triers of law and fact, giving each of the four to seven panel members a dual role as judge and juror.

Subsequent Pentagon rules gave only the presiding officer the authority to decide legal issues.

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