President Obama Orders Resumption of Military Commission Trials for Accused Detainees at Gitmo

Mar 7, 2011 6:35pm

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

President Obama today ordered the resumption of military commissions for accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and issued an executive order for indefinite detention providing for a periodic review of those detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

“From the beginning of my administration, the United States has worked to bring terrorists to justice consistent with our commitment to protect the American people and uphold our values,” the president said in a statement. “Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions and ensure the humane treatment of detainees.”

According the moves announced today by the administration, the secretary of defense will issue an order “rescinding his prior suspension on the swearing and referring of new charges in the military commissions." The order originally was issued Jan. 20, 2009, as the new administration was coming into office, for the purpose of reviewing all of the detainees’ cases.

“That review is now complete,” a senior administration official said, “In addition, there’ve been a number of reforms consistent with what the president called for in his National Archives address.”

Administration officials said the reforms will “strengthen the commissions process” to make it a “sustainable process,” and they are prepared to move forward with cases that have been referred by the attorney general.

The reforms include banning the use of statements taken as a result of cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment and strengthening the ability to use classified information for prosecution.

The administration officials refused to speak about individual cases within the context of today's actions. Obama administration officials today argued that their preference is to have criminal court trials whenever possible.

The executive order signed by the president provides for the periodic review — a “thorough and ongoing evaluation and review” of individuals the Guantanamo –- to determine whether they “pose a continuing threat to our national security.”

The review process would take place in front of a review board with representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, Homeland Security, the Defense Intelligence Director and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There would be several layers of review provided for under the executive order.

An initial review that would take place within one year of the order that will be a “full review” with a personal representative provided to the detainee to engage in direct advocacy for that detainees’ cause. The detainee would have the opportunity to make a statement to the board and would involve the review of information previously compiled and any new information.

In addition, there would be a six-month file review with also participation with the detainee and review of any new information that has developed since the last review conducted.

A full review would be conducted every three years.  A review committee would “conduct an ongoing review of the status of transfers. 

There would be an annual review, and then a review every four years of the whole question of detention policy and the merits of that policy.

Administration officials said this step strengthens the framework “under which people who we determine are in fact at war with us and are dangerous, pose significant security threats to the United States – are detained, and it provides for their review periodically to access that threat.”

Administration officials defended today’s actions – pushing back against perceptions that the moves indicate that the U.S. is preparing to keep Guantanamo Bay open for a lot longer than they’d like.

“The president’s ongoing commitment to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay holds,” an administration official said, pointing to actions like the review of each individual case at Gitmo that had not been done before, and the transfer of 67 Guantanamo detainees to other countries.

“What we are also firmly focused on is making sure that we are meeting the president’s goal of bringing terrorists to justice,” the administration official added.

“The military commissions process reform is something that the president made a commitment to," the official said, "so the reforms we put in place would exist and the prosecutions would exist irrespective of where the detainees are — if they are at Guantanamo or someplace else.”

Administration officials in the same breath admitted that the “difficulties around this set of issues have been well known for some time now,” and said they will continue to work though them within the administration and through Congress.

-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller


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