Peter Brownback, a former military lawyer and judge, is to lead the panel, which will also include two marine colonels, an air force colonel and an air force lieutenant colonel, the US Defence Department said.

The announcement came a day after the US Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees should have access to US civilian courts - in a major blow to President George Bush's policy of holding terror suspects indefinitely, without charge and without access to lawyers.

The naming of the tribunal marks the next step in the cases of Australian David Hicks, Yemeni national Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulaiman al-Bahlul and Ibrahim Ahmad Mahmud al-Qusi, a Sudanese.

The three are charged with conspiring to commit war crimes. Hicks is also charged with attempted murder and supporting the enemy. 
 
They are the first of some 600 detainees from 42 countries to be charged.
 
The announcement does not mean that the commissions will begin trying cases soon.

Defence requests

A Pentagon statement did not say when the trials would begin, but Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said: "It will be a while before we get anywhere near the real trials.

"I assume they will challenge the procedures and the people selected on the panel"

Eugene Fidell,
National Institute of Military Justice president

"The defence lawyers will be making a variety of requests. Presumably they'll try to have the charges dismissed.

"In other words, there's a variety of things that they can, and I'm sure will, do before we get anywhere near the actual trial," Fidell said.

"The defence will be making a variety of requests. I assume they will challenge the procedures and the people selected on the panel."

He said the Supreme Court, in its ruling on Monday, did not address the issue of military commissions.

Race for time

"It may be that they [the Pentagon] were in a race for time," Fidell said. "In others words, they wanted to make sure that they had military commissions in existence before these people could get back into district court."

The system of military commissions that existed in the US during the second world war was revived by President George Bush in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks to try suspected terrorists.

Many military lawyers, including Michael Mori, who was assigned to represent Hicks, are questioning the legality of the system, saying it is unjust because the executive branch of government completely controls it.

This control, they argue, begins with the charges and extends all the way to the appointment of judges and juries.

Mori has repeatedly said that a more conventional military institution, such as a court martial, will be more appropriate.

The high court's decision on Monday marked a turning point for these prisoners as well as a sharp setback for the Bush administration's anti-terrorist policies that had been criticised for short-circuiting civil liberties in the name of national security.