July 21, 2008 / 11:48 PM / 10 years ago

US officers say they're impartial in Guantanamo case

By Jim Loney

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba, July 21 (Reuters) - One of the U.S. military officers called as a potential juror in the trial of Osama bin Laden’s driver had a college roommate who worked at the Pentagon when a hijacked jet crashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001, and was worried her friend might have been hurt.

She was selected on Monday for the jury.

Another officer was at the Pentagon and watched the jetliner burn after escaping the damaged military headquarters when the hijacked plane crashed, killing 184 people. He was rejected.

The jury pool in the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan were all members of the U.S. military fighting the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. They all said they could be impartial in deciding his guilt or innocence in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two, which started on Monday.

Some of the many critics of the military tribunals set up by President George W. Bush to try terrorism suspects have complained there is a fatal flaw in a system that calls on U.S. military officers to judge the alleged enemy fighters they are making war on.

Hamdan, a Yemeni who is charged with conspiracy and providing support to terrorists, sat before the uniformed U.S. officers in the Guantanamo courtroom dressed in traditional garb, a white headdress and long white robe, over which he wore a Western-style suit jacket.

All six jurors who will hear the case were seated on Monday. Their identities are being kept secret.

In questioning, the potential jurors said the events of Sept. 11 would not cloud their judgment.

"I believe in law and order. I believe in justice," said a Navy captain and former policeman when asked if the fact he knew people at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 would affect his decisions.

"I believe that in our line of work, people get hurt and people get killed. It’s what we do," said the officer, who also knew the commander of the warship USS Cole, which was struck by a suicide bombing in 2000 in Yemen, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

He was rejected.


But the Army colonel whose college roommate worked at the Pentagon passed muster.

"I tried to get hold of her all day. It obviously upset me," she said. "At the end of the day I was able to get hold of her and she was alright."

Are you confident you can be unbiased, Judge Keith Allred, himself a Navy captain, asked. "I am confident," she said.

A Navy flight officer who said he knew people who had seen the plane flying toward the Pentagon, and wept when they talked about it, was rejected.

A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army was accepted after saying the United States is at war against "radical Islam" and that he believed the war had actually begun in the 1990s.

Like several of the jurors, he said he would have no problem with Hamdan remaining silent during the trial, as is his right, instead of taking the witness stand.

"The judge stated clearly he doesn’t have to, and I am not supposed to hold that against him," he said.

But lawyers noted to an Air Force colonel that he seemed to have a difference of opinion on that. He had written on a questionnaire that he might be more likely to think someone was guilty if they were reluctant to tell their side of a story.

"I always believed that if someone is not guilty they should have no trouble relating what they know," he said. When asked if he would hold it against Hamdan should the defendant choose not to testify, the colonel said: "Absolutely not."

He was rejected.

An Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq, Kosovo and Panama was asked if his impartiality would be affected if he learned Hamdan conspired to shoot down military aviators. Prosecutors allege Hamdan was carrying two surface-to-air missiles in his car when he was captured in Afghanistan.

"I’m not sure the answer to that, sir. I don’t believe it impacts (would affect his decisions), but I’m not sure."

He made the jury. (Editing by Michael Christie and Eric Beech)

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