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Base Preparing for Possible Tribunals

June 03, 2003|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — With the Pentagon preparing recommendations on which detainees to send to military tribunals, authorities at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have begun renovating several old office buildings to serve as courtrooms.

U.S. officials in Cuba also are informally discussing plans for building a death row and an execution chamber should any of the military trials in the war on terrorism result in death sentences.

In Washington, authorities cautioned that it probably would not be until this summer, at the earliest, before President Bush acts on the recommendations from the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions and signs an executive order finding a "reason to believe" some of the 680 detainees in Cuba should be charged with crimes and ordered to stand trial.

The office is preparing its recommendations now, and authorities expect that only a handful of detainees would initially be sent to military court.

"They will recommend, probably, a small group of people that they will forward to the president," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind said Monday.

Once the president acts, she said, the newly appointed prosecution and defense teams will begin preparing their cases for trial -- in all likelihood at Guantanamo Bay.

At the base, Army Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a prison camp spokesman, said authorities expect that tribunals -- if called for -- will be held there, and that they have started preparing for such proceedings.

If military tribunals "are ordered and when they occur ... this is a likely location for them to be held," Johnson said.

"And it would be foolish of us not to sit down here and discuss this possibility."

He said several old offices at the base are being spruced up to be used as courtrooms. He said base commanders also are discussing what needs to be done for a permanent facility to house prisoners for years ahead, especially if the tribunals result in lengthy prison sentences for some detainees.

In addition, Johnson said, the base command has discussed the construction of a death row facility and a chamber for execution by lethal injection, should the ultimate penalty be meted out.

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