The Obama administration will restart military-run trials for some terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The tribunals will include new legal protections for the detainees.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Friday, saying military commissions are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, if they are properly structured and administered.
Mr. Obama says the rules governing the commissions will be changed to give the suspects greater legal protection. Statements obtained from the detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques will no longer be admitted as evidence. Defendants will have greater choice in selecting their counsel. The use of information heard through another person will be limited. And the president says there will be basic protections for those who refuse to testify.
Mr. Obama criticized the Bush-era system as a failure during the 2008 campaign. He suspended the trials shortly after taking office in January, but did not rule out restarting them.
Rights groups are highly critical of the president's move. Jonathan Hafetz a national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, calls the tribunals a failed experiment, and wants the suspects handed over to civilian courts. "I think none of the changes that the Obama administration is proposing will or can make military commissions valid or can give them the legitimacy that is necessary when we try individuals who are suspected of terrorist crimes," he said.
Rights advocates are already unhappy over the president's decision Wednesday to block the release of more photographs showing detainee abuse by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says the president's changes will make the military tribunal system fair and legitimate. "The system that was set up by Congress and signed by then-President Bush will not be the course under which these cases will ultimately be heard," he said.
Gibbs says the new safeguards will prevent a recurrence of the abuses that took place at Guantanamo during the Bush administration. "One thing that we are not having a debate about is whether these tactics exist, whether they can currently be used by this administration. Because this president took, with one stroke of the pen, the swift action to ensure that these enhanced interrogation techniques are not used by this administration," he said.
President Obama will ask for a 120-day delay in nine pending cases while the legal system is adjusted.
More than 240 terror suspects are being held at Guantanamo, which Mr. Obama has said he will close by January.