US officials said on Thursday that President Obama is reviving the fiercely-disputed Guantanamo trial system for a few detainees with stronger legal safeguards for defendants. With this change in tribunal system, which is yet to be announced officially, Obama is set to reverse the first formal decision of his presidency.
US officials said the changes made in the tribunal system will be announced on Friday.
The trials will remain frozen for another four months as the administration will amend the legal systems within that period. It is expected that fewer than 20 of the 241 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay will be tried. The report says that 13 detainees, including five allegedly involved in September 11, 2001 attack, are already in the tribunal system.
Two US officials reportedly outlined the changes made to the legal system which include:
1. Hearsay evidence against the detainees cannot be used in the court
2. Evidence cannot be obtained through cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This would include statements given from detainees who were subjected to waterboarding.
3. Detainees have been given greater leeway in choosing their own military counsel.
4. Detainees who refuse to testify from legal sanctions or other court prejudices will be protected.
Although White House might seek more amendments to the military commissions law over the next 120 days, but it is still not clear what they could include. The two officers spoke to the AP reporters on condition of anonymity as officially Obama had not yet announced the changes.
Once Obama denounced the trial system saying the Bush administration had abused and within hours of taking office in January he suspended the tribunals ordering a review of the process of prosecuting suspected terrorists.
The news came within hours of the emergence of fresh images showing the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
It is believed that these are leaked images among more than 2,000 other images which Obama administration was trying to prevent from being published.
Just within four months of taking the office Obama found himself under immense pressure for his policies on the war on terror and forced to take the U-turn on Guantanamo trial showing how difficult it is for the US president to break completely with the policies of George W. Bush.
Earlier for weeks Republicans fiercely criticized Obama's order to close down Guantanamo Bay by 2010. They said President did not have any specific plan for what to do with the detainees. Democrats have also rejected a White House funding request to shutter the prison.
Now, Republicans have welcomed Obama's decision saying it a step toward strengthening US detention policies that have been derided worldwide.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said:
"I continue to believe it is in our own national security interests to separate ourselves from the past problems of Guantanamo. I agree with the president and our military commanders that now is the time to start over and strengthen our detention policies. I applaud the president's actions today."
However, this new decision has already sparked criticism among the human rights groups and liberals.
Stacy Sullivan, counter-terrorism adviser for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "The Obama administration shouldn’t tinker with a fundamentally flawed system. Reviving the military commissions would strip much of the meaning from closing Guantanamo."
Tom Parker of Amnesty International said the President would be making "a disastrous misstep" if he revived the commissions after blasting them as "an enormous failure" on the campaign trail last year.
Jonathan Hafetz, a national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said:
"It's disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment. Even with the proposed modifications, this will not cure the commissions or provide them with legitimacy. This is perpetuating the Bush administration's misguided detention policy."
Notably in presidential campaign trail in February last year, US president described the Guantanamo trials as "a flawed military commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges."
Now critics believe that President Obama's decision to revive the Guantanamo trial is going to raise doubts in his promise to establish a new era of transparency and respect for the rule of law.