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US ruling won't affect Guantanamo camp-commander

Written by: Staff

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, June 29 (Reuters) A US Supreme Court ruling on war crimes tribunals being held at Guantanamo navy base will have little effect on the detention camp that holds 450 foreign captives, the camp commander said.

''I don't think there's any direct outcome on our detention operation,'' Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the prison commander, said in an interview this week before the ruling.

The high court upheld today a Guantanamo defendant's challenge to President George W Bush's power to create the military tribunals to try suspected al Qaeda conspirators and Taliban supporters after the September 11 attacks.

The court said the military tribunals violated the Geneva Conventions.

Harris said he would have built a second courtroom if the tribunals had been allowed to proceed but little else would change because the court was not asked to rule on Guantanamo itself, a prison camp that human rights groups, the United Nations and foreign governments have sharply criticized.

''If they rule against the government I don't see how that's going to affect us. From my perspective I think the impact will be negligible,'' Harris told Reuters.

The tribunals have also come under fire from lawyers, who say they are rigged to ensure conviction and offer none of the basic guarantees and rights granted suspects in the US justice system or to which formal prisoners of war would be entitled.

Marine Major Michael Mori, a military lawyer appointed to defend Australian prisoner David Hicks, said the ruling did not surprise him.

''The military lawyers who have been defending the defendants at Guantanamo have been saying this all along,'' Mori said in a telephone interview. ''Any real lawyer who isn't part of the administration knows this violates the Geneva Conventions.'' Ten detainees at Guantanamo have been charged before the tribunals, and prosecutors said before the ruling they wanted to charge as many as 25 more.

About 120 other prisoners at the base in have been cleared for release, or transfer to their homelands where Washington expects them to remain in detention.

Faced with growing international condemnation of the camp after three prisoners committed suicide on June 10, Bush has said he would like to empty the detention center.

But the director of interrogations at Guantanamo said many of the rest could be held a very long time because US officials will not release those whom they are convinced have the connections, training and means to carry out attacks.

''Nobody wants to be the first person to allow the next 9/11 to happen,'' said interrogations chief Paul Rester. ''Emptying this place is not my goal.'' REUTERS SHR VV2331

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