Pressing forward with plans to try some Guantánamo captives, the Pentagon on Thursday sent to Congress a manual for a war-crimes court that would permit hearsay evidence, coerced testimony and the execution of terrorists by order of the president.
The 238-page manual grants a Guantánamo terror suspect the right to defend himself but only see summaries of classified information. Also, it prohibits a defense attorney from revealing potentially favorable classified evidence -- until the government has a chance to review it.
At a news conference, the Pentagon's deputy general counsel, Daniel Dell'Orto, defended the use of hearsay evidence as the result of ``the unique conditions under which evidence will be obtained on the battlefield.''
He said both defense and military lawyers would be allowed to use such evidence, thus leveling the ''playing field'' at a military war-crimes court.
The Pentagon manual could spark a fresh confrontation between the Bush administration and the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
As a guide for the first U.S. war-crimes tribunals since World War II, the manual is intended to implement a law passed last fall by the then Republican-led Congress.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier ruled ''illegal'' the Bush administration's earlier Military Commissions for terrorism captives.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, immediately called the new guidelines ''deeply flawed.'' And in a sign of coming protests, Amnesty International issued a swift condemnation.
The Pentagon's chief defense counsel, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, said late Thursday that the new rules ``appeared carefully crafted to ensure that an accused can be convicted -- and possibly executed -- based on nothing but a coerced confession.''
Sullivan is a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who was mobilized to the Marines for the job. He is in charge of a team of military lawyers responsible with providing a zealous defense to charged captives.
''The rules would allow an accused to be executed based on nothing but hearsay,'' Sullivan said.
The Pentagon manual gives military judges and officers the role of judge and jury for enemy combatants charged as war criminals and is meant to ensure prosecution ''before regularly constituted courts affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized by civilized people,'' according to the document.
Prohibitions against the use of evidence obtained by torture and ''cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment'' are now ''ingrained in statute,'' said Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, Pentagon legal advisor to the process, in a briefing.
However, the law does allow statements obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge.
The U.S. military is holding about 395 men and teens suspected of links to al Qaeda and the Taliban at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has said it might charge 60 to 80 of them as war criminals.
Among those expected to be tried are Khalid Sheik Mohammed, whom the White House declared a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks after the CIA held and interrogated him in secret detention.
The manual provides a death penalty for those convicted of ``conspiracy or joint enterprise.''
In those cases it gives the secretary of defense, currently former CIA director Robert Gates, the power to decide how to carry out capital punishment, and says executions will be carried out by order of the president.