Pentagon changes rules for Guantanamo trials

The Defense Department is changing several rules governing its military trials of terrorism suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, department officials said Wednesday.

Pentagon officials portrayed the changes as improvements to a process they have repeatedly asserted assures all defendants a full and fair trial.

Some private legal experts welcomed the changes but said they do not go far enough and do not address some of the most objectionable features of the trial system.

Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said the changes make the Guantanamo Bay proceedings more like those of a military court-martial, which he called a step in the right direction, reports the AP.

According to ABC, the steps, approved by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, include changing the roles of the presiding officer and the other members of the military tribunals that will conduct the trials.

"We made these changes and have been working on it for some time to try to produce a better and more efficient system," Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hemingway, a legal adviser in the trial process, said.

"I don't consider it an admission that the system was flawed. I've maintained consistently that we would try to make those improvements that were necessary to the process as we moved along."

Amnesty International's observer to the trials Jumana Musa says many problems remain.

These include allowing the admission of evidence obtained through torture or hearsay and the US military's refusal to allow any independent judicial review.

"You can't have any kind of fair system of justice that can change at any moment," Mr Musa said.

Amnesty and other human rights organizations have been critical of the trial process and wider issues concerning the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo since 2002.