Guantanamo — Administration Resumes Military Commissions

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2011 — The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion today announced the con­clu­sion of its review of detainee poli­cies at Naval Sta­tion Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba, and will resume mil­i­tary com­mis­sions there.
“We are announc­ing that we will go for­ward with new com­mis­sions cas­es,” a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma issued an exec­u­tive order today that says detainees held with­out a tri­al will go before a Peri­od­ic Review Board with­in a year to have their cas­es assessed.

The board is to include rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Depart­ment.

The order also requires the attor­ney gen­er­al and defense sec­re­tary to assess whether pros­e­cu­tion is still fea­si­ble and in the country’s nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests.

In a back­ground call with reporters, senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said the announce­ment is con­sis­tent with Obama’s goals of reform­ing the detainee process and of clos­ing the Guan­tanamo Bay deten­tion facil­i­ty.

“This con­tin­ues the effort our admin­is­tra­tion has had since our ear­li­est days in office,” an offi­cial said. “We’re con­tin­u­ing the president’s effort to pros­e­cute and bring ter­ror­ists to jus­tice that is con­sis­tent with our val­ues and nation­al secu­ri­ty.”

Pros­e­cu­tions will fol­low the reg­u­la­tions of the 1949 Gene­va Con­ven­tion on the rights of pris­on­ers of war, an offi­cial said. “This is not about who our ene­mies are, but about who we are: a nation com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing its detainees with humane treat­ment,” he said.

While con­tin­u­ing to reform the detainee process, anoth­er offi­cial said, the admin­is­tra­tion also will work with for­eign gov­ern­ments to extra­dite detainees, and will try to over­turn con­gres­sion­al imped­i­ments to have some tried in fed­er­al civil­ian courts. The end goal remains to close the deten­tion facil­i­ty at Guan­tanamo Bay, which remains a recruit­ing tool for ter­ror­ists, they said.

No detainees will be released in the Unit­ed States, they said, not­ing that 67 have been trans­ferred since the facil­i­ty opened in 2002.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued state­ments today say­ing they sup­port the changes, and Gates rescind­ed his Jan­u­ary 2009 order sus­pend­ing the fil­ing of new mil­i­tary com­mis­sion charges.

“I issued the pri­or order to per­mit the new admin­is­tra­tion time to con­duct a com­pre­hen­sive review of the sta­tus of each Guan­tanamo detainee,” he said. “That review is now com­plete.”

Like oth­er admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, Gates said it is impor­tant to retain the right to pros­e­cute detainees either in mil­i­tary com­mis­sions, or in fed­er­al civil­ian courts.

“In addi­tion to bring­ing detainees to jus­tice in reformed mil­i­tary com­mis­sions, I believe it is impor­tant that we main­tain the option of pros­e­cut­ing alleged ter­ror­ists in fed­er­al courts,” he said. “For rea­sons of nation­al secu­ri­ty, we must have avail­able to us all the tools that exist for pre­vent­ing and com­bat­ing inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty, and pro­tect­ing our nation. For years, our fed­er­al courts have proven to be a secure and effec­tive means for bring­ing ter­ror­ists to jus­tice. To com­plete­ly fore­close this option is unwise and unnec­es­sary.”

In his state­ment, Mullen also not­ed his sup­port for the resump­tion of mil­i­tary com­mis­sions for Guan­tanamo detainees, and the con­tin­ued use of fed­er­al courts to try alleged ter­ror­ists.

“I believe the nation­al secu­ri­ty threat posed by ter­ror­ism is real and per­sis­tent,” he said. “And I believe it is incum­bent upon the Depart­ment of Defense to con­tribute fair­ly to the process of bring­ing these indi­vid­u­als to jus­tice. That out­come is best achieved by a full range of judi­cial options.”

Gates not­ed that the Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sions Act of 2009 led to sev­er­al key reforms in the detainee process, and anoth­er admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial said those reforms will con­tin­ue no mat­ter where tri­als are held.

“The mil­i­tary com­mis­sions process reform is some­thing the pres­i­dent has made a com­mit­ment to,” he said. “So reforms and pros­e­cu­tions will remain, irre­spec­tive of where detainees are held. This is some­thing we’ve achieved and think we should move for­ward on.”

The admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said Oba­ma remains com­mit­ted to four goals he out­lined dur­ing a 2009 speech at the Nation­al Archives:
— to bring detainees to jus­tice in pros­e­cu­tions in either fed­er­al civil­ian courts, or mil­i­tary com­mis­sions;
— to com­ply with court-ordered releas­es of detainees;
— to trans­fer detainees from Guan­tanamo when­ev­er pos­si­ble to do so safe­ly and humane­ly; and
— when nei­ther pros­e­cu­tion or oth­er legal options are avail­able, to hold detainees in law­ful mil­i­tary deten­tion.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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