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The top legal authority presiding over Pentagon military commissions, retired Maj. Gen. John Altenburg Jr., has determined that suspected terrorists charged before the commissions cannot defend themselves at trial. In the ruling, issued June 14 and made public last week, Altenburg called self-representation “impracticable,” citing the limitations on a prisoner with limited proficiency in English confined at Guant�namo Bay. The decision will immediately affect Yemeni national Ali Hamza al Bahlul, who in August 2004 asked to fire his military lawyers and proceed pro se. Outgoing chief defense counsel Air Force Col. Will Gunn says he was disappointed by the ruling. “I think it affects perception of legitimacy of the military commissions,” Gunn says. For once, the defense and prosecution were in agreement. In October 2004, military prosecutors in court filings urged Altenburg to grant al Bahlul’s request, stating, “We believe self-representation is necessary to a full and fair trial.” � Vanessa Blum

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