Obama Halts Guantanamo Trials

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, the five Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, January 19, 2009. From top to bottom, they are Khalid Sheikh Momhammed, Waleed Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi. (Janet Hamlin/Pool/Reuters)

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. Military, the five Sept. 11, 2001 attack co-defendants sit during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, January 19, 2009. From top to bottom, they are Khalid Sheikh Momhammed, Waleed Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmad al Hawsawi. (Janet Hamlin/Pool/Reuters)

President Obama’s first significant act as chief executive was to order a halt to the military tribunals at Gitmo. Oddly, it merits only page 2 treatment at WaPo.

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed with a military court in the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The motion called for “a continuance of the proceedings” until May 20 so that “the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically.”

The same motion was filed in another case scheduled to resume Wednesday, involving a Canadian detainee, and will be filed in all other pending matters.

Such a request may not be automatically granted by military judges, and not all defense attorneys may agree to such a suspension. But the move is a first step toward closing a detention facility and system of military trials that became a worldwide symbol of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and its unyielding attitude toward foreign and domestic critics.

As Jane Sutton notes for Reuters, this is a big deal if granted (and I can’t imagine it won’t be; surely the president has a right as the ultimate convening authority to halt the trials).

The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantanamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

[…]

About 245 foreign captives are still held at the detention center that opened in January 2002. The Bush administration had said it planned to try 80 prisoners on war crimes charges, but only three cases have been completed.

It’s not clear why they need six months to study something that’s been a subject of controversy for years. Still, it makes sense to seek a stay if there’s doubt as to whether the trials will be allowed to go to fruition.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Terrorism, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    It’s not clear why they need six months to study something that’s been a subject of controversy for years.

    Oh, yes it is.
    It’s called reality, spoiling the well-inetntioned plans of the left, once again. As I indeicated in my Pajamas Media piece this morning:

    As President Obama and his people are briefed on what has been happening in the world these last eight years, the insider’s view has given them a completely new perspective on what to do about the situation, resulting in completely different actions as compared to the ones they were telling everyone they would take once they were given the power.

    This situation is no different. He wants to match his actions to his rethoric, but there’s no way to do that. He’s delaying six months while he and those under him scrable to find a way. They will fail, and once again, Bush policy will prevail in the matter.

    Of course, being 6 months (or longer) down the road by the time a move is actually forced, it will be out of the spotlight, and so not so much of a political problem with the far left, anymore.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    It’s not clear why they need six months to study something that’s been a subject of controversy for years.

    Probably because the specific facts of the cases in question were classified and unavailable to the Obama team until now.

  3. caj says:

    President Obama is in charge now and has the right to do what he feels is necessary in these cases, we know so many things have been done incorrectly to say the least by Bush.
    He is starting with his own ideas and not those left behind by Bush.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    There is no right to a speedy trial.
    There is no right to a trial.
    Six Months, Six Years, Six Decades, who cares?

  5. Triumph says:

    President Obama’s first significant act as chief executive was to order a halt to the military tribunals at Gitmo.

    That should be rephrased to read: “His first significant act was to release his terrorist buddies into the wild and help them maraud and pillage Americans in the service of his Kenyan overlord, Adewale Ogunleye.”

    Get ready everybody. Unless Cheney can pull a miracle, its going to be a long 4 years.

  6. tom p says:

    It’s not clear why they need six months to study something that’s been a subject of controversy for years.

    Probably because the specific facts of the cases in question were classified and unavailable to the Obama team until now.

    Actually I suspect it’s because there is no “one size fits all solution”. The particulars of each case will dictate the way forward in each case.

    This situation is no different. He wants to match his actions to his rethoric, but there’s no way to do that. He’s delaying six months while he and those under him scrable to find a way. They will fail, and once again, Bush policy will prevail in the matter.

    Hahahaheehee… Bit, you crack me up. Bush policy is the trap Obama has fallen into, as he always knew he would.

  7. dutchmarbel says:

    They might also need time to negotiate with other countries about where the detainees could go to if they are freed.

  8. just me says:

    Probably because the specific facts of the cases in question were classified and unavailable to the Obama team until now.

    I am willing to bet he had access to this information once he was elected. AFter all there are briefings on classified information given during the transition period.

    I lean more towards tom p’s answer. My guess is that the issue is far more complex than campaign rhetoric allowed for, and he is trying to figure out a way to keep his promise in light of the fact that it isn’t all that easily kept.

    Closing Gitmo is the easy part-figuring out what to do with the detainees-some of whom aren’t innocent, is the hard part-especially when you can’t send them back to their country of origin and bringing them to US soil will likely result in a revolt.

  9. Phil Smith says:

    I’m clearly missing some highly nuanced point. I have always thought that the point of trials (or one of the points) was to adjudicate the facts or the “particulars of each case”. Precisely how does delaying the process of adjudicating the facts assist in correcting Bush’s misdeeds? Wouldn’t justice be best served by allowing the tribunals to continue, with appropriate judicial and Executive review afterwards, or even concurrently?

    And haven’t we had a number of SCOTUS decisions handed down, and laws passed by Congress on this very topic?

  10. tom p says:

    I’m clearly missing some highly nuanced point. I have always thought that the point of trials (or one of the points) was to adjudicate the facts or the “particulars of each case”. Precisely how does delaying the process of adjudicating the facts assist in correcting Bush’s misdeeds? Wouldn’t justice be best served by allowing the tribunals to continue, with appropriate judicial and Executive review afterwards, or even concurrently?

    Phil, the problem is the very process itself. These military commissions are little more than “kangaroo courts”. Where evidence (secret intel) is introduced that the defendant is not allowed to hear or see (so he has no chance of challenging it) and coerced confessions are admissable.

    To top it all off, as the MC’s are set up, there is no judicial review.

    In other words, if the president says you are guilty, you are.

  11. Phil Smith says:

    coerced confessions are admissable

    That doesn’t appear to be correct. I’m not going to research whether judicial review is allowed, because it doesn’t in any way obviate the fact that President Obama could, if his 120 day study leads him to believe it appropriate, commute the sentence.

    And you didn’t address the SCOTUS decisions or recent legislation on this matter.

  12. Anderson says:

    Phil, the Gitmo judges have a great deal of discretion whether to admit evidence obtained via coercion; the judge you cite ruled one way, but would have been difficult to reverse had he ruled the other way.

    There’ve been several news items on FBI efforts to reconstruct the cases vs. KSM etc. w/out tainted evidence. Apparently it hasn’t been easy.

  13. Phil Smith says:

    You gentlemen are making me work too hard. The assertion that the commissions are not subject to judicial review is false.

    And it turns out that compulsory self-incrimination is prohibited.

    “Evidence obtained via coercion” is only allowed if, among other things, it is the opinion of the presiding judge that “the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value”. I do not agree that coerced confessions are admissable under this act, based on the text of the law itself, and subsequent SC clarification. The criticisms of the commissions presented here are 0 for 2.

    So again, what is the rationale for suspending the commissions? The reasons given so far are specious.