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Prosecutors Push for Earlier Gitmo Trials

They said it couldn't be done. Only last month, The Washington Post ran a front page story on how "U.S. officials" now reluctantly admitted that it was unlikely any of the suspected 9/11 conspirators held at Guantanamo Bay would be tried before the end of the Bush administration.

But the week after the piece ran, military officials approved charges against five of the detainees. And now prosecutors are pushing for a trial to begin in September -- a far more ambitious timeline than anticipated, and one, defense lawyers for the detainees note, that would land the trials shortly after the Republican convention and ensure plenty of coverage in the run-up to the election.

It's not the first time that Pentagon officials have been accused of trying to time the Gitmo prosecutions for political gain. Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor at Gitmo who resigned because the system had become "deeply politicized," testified that his former superiors discussed how the trials should be handled to maximize the public relations value.

Davis testified that Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England said during a meeting in 2006 that "there could be strategic political value in getting some of these cases going before the elections," and that "we need to think about who could be tried." Davis also said that Thomas Hartmann, an official who helps oversee the commissions, told prosecutors that he wanted to bring cases "that would be 'sexy' enough to capture the public interest, or cases in which an accused might have blood on his hands, rather than cases involving low level actors transporting documents, etc." Based mostly on Davis' testimony, Hartmann was subsequently disqualified from any dealings with Salim Hamdan's case.

Lawyers for the detainees say three months is not nearly enough time to prepare. But government officials say there's nothing remarkable about seeking a trial sooner rather than later. A State Department flack put it more bluntly on Friday:

"I don't think it's any surprise that military tribunals that we've been trying to get going, literally, for years are now getting going," deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters ....

"So to a certain extent," said Casey, "if this comes as a surprise to people, no offense, but I don't think they were paying that much attention."

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