And Thus it Begins...
January 22, 2009
Obama Orders Halt to Prosecutions at Guantánamo
By WILLIAM GLABERSON
In the first hours of his presidency, President Obama directed an immediate halt to the Bush administration’s military commissions system for prosecuting detainees at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Notice of the decision came in a legal filing in Guantanamo by military prosecutors just before midnight Tuesday. The decision, which had been expected as part of Mr. Obama’s pledge to close the detention camp, was described as a pause in all war-crimes proceedings there so that the new administration can evaluate how to proceed with prosecutions.
Among other cases, the decision will temporarily stop the prosecution of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including the case against the self described mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Later this week, the new administration is expected to issue an executive order that is to start what could be a long process of closing the detention camp, where about 245 detainees remain.
The prosecution filing Tuesday said the order came from the Secreatary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, “by order of the president.” It described the halt in all proceedings as designed “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”
The suspension had been expected because, as a candidate, Mr. Obama described the military commissions as a failure and suggested that he may decide to prosecute detainees in existing courts. The military commissions have been criticized as lacking in the basic protections of the American justice system and have been plagued by legal and practical difficulties since the Bush administration first announced its plan for prosecution in the months after the 2001 attacks.
Some Pentagon officials said it was not clear that the new administration would conclude that it should entirely abandon the military commission process, where 21 cases are pending and three detainees have been convicted of war crimes.
The chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army, said in an interview that the pause in the proceedings would provide for a calm and efficient review of the process.
“I’ve very confident that an open minded, vigorous review will be good for the process and if any changes are made, it will yield a still better process on the other end,” Col. Morris said.
Several officials of the new administration have said in recent weeks that if the military commissions were continued, it would only be with changes providing more legal protections for detainees. One controversial provision of the current system that would be amended, several of them said, permits the introduction of statements coerced from detainees through what the Bush administration called enhanced interrogation methods.
The senior Pentagon official for the military commissions said last week that one detainee had been tortured at Guantanamo, and critics have long asserted that many detainees held at Guantanamo and in the secret C.I.A. prisons were tortured. The Bush administration asserted until its final days in office that it did not torture detainees.
Mr. Obama had suggested during the campaign that, in place of the military commissions, he would prefer to see prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in proceedings in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.
One person who had been read a transition memorandum on the subject said that the memo described the new administration as favoring federal court prosecution and stated that military commissions would remain in place during a review process if legal teams conclude that there are unforeseen difficulties in continuing prosecutions in existing American courts.
Critics of the Bush administration’s detention policies greeted the halt to the legal proceedings as an encouraging sign, but several reacted warily because there had not yet been a definitive order directing the closing of the camp.
Amnesty International said it “hopes that today’s announcement is a sign that the U.S. government will reject, once and for all, the past U.S. policies that have caused so much damage to human rights and the rule of law.”
The Tuesday decision will bring an immediate halt to the trial scheduled to begin on Monday of the only Canadian detainee, Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he was first detained. Mr. Khadr is charged with killing an American soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. His case has drawn international attention, in part because his lawyers have argued that the case violated international prohibitions on the prosecution of child soldiers.
From Guantanamo, Mr. Khadr’s military defense lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William C. Kuebler, said he welcomed the news. “This young man’s ordeal has gone on long enough,” he said, “and the U.S. can begin restoring its reputation by following international law requiring former child soldiers such as Omar to be treated as victims entitled to opportunities for rehabilitation and social reintegration, rather than as adult ‘war criminals.’”
I think all of those poor detainees should be shipped to the United States and put to work in the Obama Administration . What the hell , let's give them federal bailout money to even the score. I hate to think that my tax dollars are just confined to bank,auto and Wall Street terrorists.