The Obama administration will restart
military-run trials for some terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The
tribunals will include new legal protections for the detainees.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Friday, saying military commissions
are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, if they are
properly structured and administered.
Mr. Obama says the rules governing the commissions will be changed to give
the suspects greater legal protection. Statements obtained from the detainees
using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques will no longer be
admitted as evidence. Defendants will have greater choice in selecting their
counsel. The use of information heard through another person will be limited.
And the president says there will be basic protections for those who refuse to
Mr. Obama criticized the Bush-era system as a failure during the 2008
campaign. He suspended the trials shortly after taking office in January, but
did not rule out restarting them.
Rights groups are highly critical of the president's move. Jonathan Hafetz a
national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, calls the
tribunals a failed experiment, and wants the suspects handed over to civilian
courts. "I think none of the changes that the Obama administration is proposing
will or can make military commissions valid or can give them the legitimacy that
is necessary when we try individuals who are suspected of terrorist crimes," he
Rights advocates are already unhappy over the president's decision Wednesday
to block the release of more photographs showing detainee abuse by U.S. troops
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says the president's changes will
make the military tribunal system fair and legitimate. "The system that was set
up by Congress and signed by then-President Bush will not be the course under
which these cases will ultimately be heard," he said.
Gibbs says the new safeguards will prevent a recurrence of the abuses that
took place at Guantanamo during the Bush administration. "One thing that we are
not having a debate about is whether these tactics exist, whether they can
currently be used by this administration. Because this president took, with one
stroke of the pen, the swift action to ensure that these enhanced interrogation
techniques are not used by this administration," he said.
President Obama will ask for a 120-day delay in nine pending cases while the
legal system is adjusted.
More than 240 terror suspects are being held at Guantanamo, which Mr. Obama
has said he will close by January.