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MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo have betrayed the principles of fairness that made the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremberg a judicial landmark, one of the U.S. Nuremberg prosecutors said on Monday.
"I think Robert Jackson, who's the architect of Nuremberg, would turn over in his grave if he knew what was going on at Guantanamo," Nuremberg prosecutor Henry King Jr. told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"It violates the Nuremberg principles, what they're doing, as well as the spirit of the Geneva Conventions of 1949."
King, 88, served under Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who was the chief prosecutor at the trials created by the Allied powers to try Nazi military and political leaders after World War Two in Nuremberg, Germany.
"The concept of a fair trial is part of our tradition, our heritage," King said from Ohio, where he lives. "That's what made Nuremberg so immortal -- fairness, a presumption of innocence, adequate defense counsel, opportunities to see the documents that they're being tried with."
King, who interrogated Nuremberg defendant Albert Speer, was incredulous that the Guantanamo rules left open the possibility of using evidence obtained through coercion.
"To torture people and then you can bring evidence you obtained into court? Hearsay evidence is allowed? Some evidence is available to the prosecution and not to the defendants? This is a type of 'justice' that Jackson didn't dream of," King said.
He said the Guantanamo prisoners should be tried in the court-martial system or the U.S. federal courts, under fair rules that leave open the possibility of acquittal. Three Nuremberg defendants were acquitted, King noted.
The Bush administration has said it needs to hold the special tribunals at Guantanamo in order to protect national security. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the first version of the Guantanamo trials as illegal.
The 2006 Military Commissions Act, which set revised rules for trying suspected terrorists at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "sort of turns its back on Nuremberg," King said. "I don't think it's a credit to us to have this thing."
"The United States has always stood for fairness. That's the important thing. We were the ones who started war crimes tribunals and we're the architects. I don't think we should turn our back on that architecture."
King, who teaches law at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, also questioned whether former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks deserved to be tried as a war criminal. After being held at Guantanamo for more than five years, the Australian pleaded guilty in March to a charge of providing material support for terrorism and was sent home to serve the rest of his nine-month sentence.
"He's not an arch-criminal type, just a guy who was disaffected from the system," King said.
Hicks, who admitted training with al Qaeda and briefly fighting on its side in Afghanistan, is the only person convicted in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals.