Stephen C. Webster
Breaking a key promise from his campaign, President Barack Obama is expected to announce Friday the return of military commission trials for a small number of terrorism suspects. Obama had previously promised to abolish them.
The tribunals, often criticized as overly protective of state secrets and willing to accept evidence obtained while defendants were allegedly tortured, were suspended mere hours after Obama took office.
Many organizations expected the move to be a death knell for the system, launched by the Bush administration.
But, it was not.
Unnamed administration officials told the Associated Press on Thursday that the revived commissions will afford greater legal rights to prisoners by barring evidence obtained under coercion or torture and restricting how hearsay evidence is applied.
“The military commissions established under the Bush administration allow the use of evidence, such as that gathered from other detainees, which would be disallowed in civilian courts,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Critics of the commissions say regular courts are adequate to handle terrorism trials.
“The White House declined to comment. An Obama administration official said the president, while serving in the Senate, ‘had been supportive of a reformed version of military commissions that included increased due process protections as a means of bringing detainees to justice.’”
“The administration intends to try some of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in federal courts, as President Obama has pledged,” reported The Los Angeles Times. “But officials have concluded that some detainees can only be tried in military tribunals, said a U.S. official familiar with the changes.
“Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, said the international community was unlikely to view the tribunals as legitimate.
“‘Everyone knows the military commissions have been a dismal failure,’ Rona said. ‘The results of the cases will be suspect around the globe.’”
It will be several more months before tribunals begin anew, the AP reported.
“An administration official said between 10 and 20 of the 241 detainees currently at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be tried in military commissions,” the wire service added.
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