updated 12/30/2003 4:11:59 PM ET 2003-12-30T21:11:59

A retired Army general will oversee military tribunals for suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including approving charges, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Chosen for the job was John D. Altenburg, Jr., who retired as a two-star general in 2002. His last military assignment was assistant judge advocate general for the Department of the Army.

None of the 660 suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay has been charged, and although the Pentagon has not said when it expects to begin military trials, the first is expected soon. It would be the United States' first use of military tribunals since World War II.

Human rights organizations have called on the United States to put on trial or release all the prisoners -- or at least say what is planned for them. The groups complain that the open-ended, indefinite detentions have led to a deterioration in mental health and dozens of suicide attempts at the prison, set up shortly after the start of the war in Afghanistan in October 2001.

The Pentagon on Tuesday also named four members of a review panel that would hear appeals of cases decided by military tribunals and said they will be commissioned as Army major generals for their two-year terms.

The four are: Griffin B. Bell, the former U.S. attorney general in the Carter administration and former U.S. circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit; Edward G. Biester, a Court of Common Pleas judge in Bucks County, Pa., and a former Pennsylvania attorney general and former member of the U.S. House; William T. Coleman, Jr., a former secretary of transportation; and Frank Williams, chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Additional review panel members may be named later, officials said.

In a related matter, the Defense Department's top lawyer, William J. Haynes II, issued Military Commission Instruction No. 9, spelling out the procedures for appeals of tribunal decisions.

Altenburg, who served for 28 years as an Army lawyer, will serve as "appointing authority" for the military tribunals in a civilian capacity. He takes over for Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, who had been overseeing the tribunal process.

The Pentagon also announced that Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway will be Altenburg's legal adviser. Hemingway retired from the Air Force in 1996 and was recalled to active duty last summer. He has served as a staff judge advocate at several levels in the Air Force and was a senior judge on the Air Force Court of Military Review as well as director of the Air Force Judiciary.

The steps announced by the Pentagon on Tuesday were the last major procedural steps planned before one or more of the terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is charged and brought to trial.

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