President Obama announced that he will seek to reinstate military commissions for Guantanamo detainees, but with changes to give defendants more rights than in previous military tribunals established under President George W. Bush.
"Today, the Department of Defense will be seeking additional continuances in several pending military commission proceedings," Obama said in a written statement. "We will seek more time to allow us time to reform the military commission process."
The expanded rights for detainees at Guantanamo Bay would include banning evidence obtained through "cruel, inhuman or degrading techniques," adding restrictions on the admission of hearsay evidence, allowing defendants greater choice in choosing military counsel, greater protection for the accused who refuse to testify and allowing military commission judges to establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.
Other detainees not tried under military tribunals will be moved into the U.S. court system and the administration has yet to make a decision on those held in indefinite detention.
"I think there are many different avenues by which this administration will use to seek the justice that is deserved," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today.
"Military commissions have a long tradition in the United States," Obama said in a paper statement. "In the past, I have supported the use of military commissions as one avenue to try detainees. ... In 2006, I voted in favor of the use of military commissions. But I objected strongly to the Military Commissions Act that was drafted by the Bush administration and passed by Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined our capability to ensure swift and certain justice against those detainees that we were holding at the time."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will send the changes to Congress. He is required by the Military Commissions Act to give Congress a 60-day notice before the changes are implemented.
A White House source says that Monday, White House counsel Greg Craig met with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to consult with him about the military commission decision. On Tuesday, Craig consulted with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Obama's position on reinstating military tribunals was lauded by some Republicans in Congress, but human rights groups -- some of whom are already outraged at the president's decision to fight the release of detainee abuse photos -- are complaining that the administration's move resonates of Bush's era and offers more of the same.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent out an angry statement Friday, calling the decision a "striking blow to due process and the rule of law."