Obama revives tribunals for Gitmo detainees

May 15, 2009 11:11:54 AM PDT
President Barak Obama said Friday he is reviving the Bush-era military tribunals for a small number of Guantanamo detainees though with several new legal protections for terror suspects. "This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values," the president said in a statement.

For now, the military trials will remain on hold, as they have been since the beginning of his administration, as he changes the legal system that is expected to try fewer than 20 of the 241 detainees now being held at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The president said that immediate rule changes governing the trials, carried by out executive authority, will begin to bring them in line with the rule of law, most significantly by altering some rules of allowable evidence.

Obama also is asking Congress to change the 2006 law creating the current, on-hold tribunal system to enact more sweeping reforms.

Pentagon lawyers were filing a continuance request with the military commissions judge. It appeared the administration was asking for a four-month delay in trials to give it time to enact at least the initial rule changes, but that timeframe has been in flux over recent days and wasn't immediately clear.

Obama did not specify a timeframe in his statement.

The tribunal system was established after the military began taking detainees from the battlefields of Afghanistan in late 2001. But it immediately came under repeated challenges from human rights and legal organizations, because it denied defendants most of the rights they would be granted in a civilian courtroom or even in a traditional military court martial.

The president's decision to go forward with tribunals, though in a new way, puts him in the position of reviving a Bush-era trial system he once assailed as deeply flawed - and which he opposed as a senator.

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