Obama Administration Halts Military Commission Trials at Guantanamo
Washington, DC (January 21, 2009) -- In one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama, in the hours after he was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009, instructed prosecutors in the Military Commission proceedings at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay to seek a 120-day suspension of pending legal proceedings at “Camp Justice.” In light of that Presidential order, the U.S. government filed a motion last night to continue the matter of U.S. v. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et al., for 120 days. The motion was granted this morning by the presiding military judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley. In his order, Col. Henley suspended all military commission sessions until May 20, 2009, finding it in the interests of justice to provide the new Administration time to review the process and to decide the proper forum to prosecute the accused.
“A 120-day suspension just kicks the can down the road without making any commitment to ending the military commissions,” said Michael Price, National Security Coordinator for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. The commissions system is fundamentally flawed and should be scrapped altogether; extending its existence for another four months is unacceptable. Charges against the accused should be immediately withdrawn and their cases transferred to the proper forum.”
A second Presidential order is anticipated soon, perhaps as early as this afternoon, directing the Department of Defense to empty the prison camps of all detainees.
“The time is long past for calling these persons ‘detainees.’ They’re prisoners, many of whom the government now admits have committed no crime, erroneously detained and imprisoned because no one had the guts to admit a mistake,” NACDL President John Wesley Hall said in a statement last week.
Prior to his inauguration, President Barack Obama said he will close the camps at Guantanamo, but later added, “it’s going to take some time.” This action suggests they may take up to a minimum of 120 days before making substantive, lasting determinations as to how to proceed regarding these prisoners.
In an article in this month’s issue of The Champion, available on NACDL’s Web site, Hall says that existing federal law and procedures are sufficient to handle Guantanamo cases and prisoner relocation. He argues that the camps ought to be, and can be, emptied immediately, that prisoners should be sent home to their families “with our deepest apologies,” and that options are available were relocation is not possible or ill-advised.