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Pentagon finishes rules for military tribunals

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After four months of work, the Pentagon has finished writing the rules for military tribunals that will try prisoners from the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday.

``We're comfortable that it will produce a just, fair, balanced outcome,'' Rumsfeld said. Then he declined to say anything about how the tribunals would work.

Officials have been working to lay out rules and procedures for trying foreign terrorist suspects, saying the war on terror has created unprecedented legal issues. President Bush in November authorized the use of tribunals, and military officials have been writing the rules in the event Bush designates any of the prisoners as candidates for such a trial.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference that no decision has been made on which prisoners might be tried by such a commission.

But he said officials had decided how the commission would be conducted if and when a defendant is assigned.

He declined to give any details of the new rules, saying officials are working on a packet of information that will explain the rules when they're released, including a question-and-answer sheet to assure the public gets the full picture.

``If I were to try to do a quick cursory summary, it would be pieces,'' he said. ``And it seems to me it's critically important for people to look at the totality of it.

``I do not want it leaked out piecemeal in a way that people start taking a single element of it and shaking it in their teeth, like a dog, and concluding that there's something wrong with it because it's different from the criminal justice system or the Uniformed Code of Military Justice,'' Rumsfeld said.

Meanwhile, he said, work continued in Afghanistan, where coalition forces are doing a cave-to-cave search for weapons, intelligence and remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the east.

Following a battle that reportedly killed midlevel al-Qaida leaders, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are refocusing on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and cells of his followers.

More than six months after the Sept. 11 attacks and five months after the Afghanistan war began, al-Qaida chief bin Laden's whereabouts remain a mystery. Officials don't know if he's dead or alive.

There was little expectation that bin Laden would be found in the Shah-e-Kot Valley, where U.S. and Afghan forces fought a 12-day battle against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. On Thursday, coalition troops searched abandoned caves for material that might shed light on al-Qaida and its leaders.

Maj. Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck, commander of U.S. and coalition forces in the Shah-e-Kot battle, said Thursday the dead were ``second and third tier'' al-Qaida leaders.

``The big names that you and I are most familiar with, however, indications are that they were not in this valley as we came here,'' he told reporters at Bagram air base. ``We did not have indications prior to the attack that they would be here. But we have indications where they are, and I can assure you that we will track them down and get them before this is over.''

U.S. military officials in Washington said clues to the whereabouts of senior al-Qaida leaders are generally not specific enough to act on and sometimes are contradictory.

American forces plan to keep the pressure on. The Army's 101st Airborne Division says 600 soldiers from its 3rd Battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky., are heading to Afghanistan to join about 5,000 other U.S regular and special forces.

The U.S. forces, working with allied soldiers and Afghans friendly to the American cause, are looking out for remnants of al-Qaida. The goal is to ensure they are unable to regroup in sufficient numbers to challenge the interim Afghan government or to resume terrorist training and planning.

Bush administration officials have played down the importance of capturing or killing bin Laden. Bush said Wednesday the al-Qaida leader, whom the president holds responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, had become marginalized by the U.S. military campaign.
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