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Defense deputy gets authority for military tribunals

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has delegated his role as "appointing authority" for military commissions to his deputy, according to Pentagon officials.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a delegation last weekend putting Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in authority over the tribunals that will try al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, the officials said.

Under an order that President Bush issued in November 2001, military tribunals can be used to try non-citizens accused of terrorist acts. Individuals brought before the tribunals would have no right to a jury trial, no right to confront their accusers and no right to judicial review of trial procedures or sentences, which could include death.

Wolfowitz will exercise key powers in the commission process. After the chief military prosecutor drafts charges against a detainee, Wolfowitz will have the authority to approve those charges and send the detainee to trial.

As appointing authority, he also will select military officers to sit on commissions. If commission members cannot resolve matters related to procedures, motions or facts, Wolfowitz will make the final decision.

The Pentagon's Office of General Counsel and chief prosecutor are reviewing information known as "reasons to believe" a detainee might be subject to a commission, Pentagon officials said.

Task force interrogators develop that information, which could go at any time to the White House for Bush's review.

The president is expected to notify the Pentagon which detainees are subject to the jurisdiction of a commission. Then the chief prosecutor reviews and drafts charges and sends them to Wolfowitz for final approval.

Rumsfeld will remain involved in the process, especially at the later stages. If a commission passes sentence on a detainee, the sentence moves up the line for review. Wolfowitz, a review panel and Rumsfeld would examine the sentence before it went before Bush.

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