Saturday, May 2, 2009

Change doesn't always come easily at Guantanamo Bay

Now from Washington comes word that the Obama adminstration may not do away with the controversial military tribunal system for suspects captured in the Bush administration's war on terror. Officials admitted this week that they had plans to restart the military trials after making some changes in how the tribunals are conducted, according to the Associated Press. The move appears to be a setback for the Obama administration, which suspended the tribunals almost immediately upon taking office in January. Obama also ordered reviews of all cases against the 241 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- which he had expected to take until May 20. The government now is expected to keep the suspension in place for three more months and to use that time to fine-tune the system, instead of transferring all detainee cases to federal courts as it had originally intended, the AP reported, citing two unnamed federal officials. Issues still to be resolved include the use of top-secret evidence that would not be admissable in civilian court because revealing it could jeopardize undercover operatives. "We'll be making, again, individualized determinations about where . . . for that group of people who should be tried, where they should be tried," Holder testified recently before the House of Representatives. Holder said there would be "significant changes" to the current tribunals, the AP said. Obama faced criticism from Republicans when he suspended the tribunals as part of his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by January, and was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union this week for trying to keep the tribunal system going. "To revive a fatally flawed system that was specifically designed to evade due process and the rule of law would be a grave error and a huge step backward," Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney, told the AP. But a Georgetown University legal ethics professor said the change is strategy was typical for a new administration in Washington. "Once you become president and see the whole panoply of issued that you face, some of the things that seemed easy to promise or talk about during the campaign sometimes appear more difficult," Prof. Paul F. Rothstein told the AP on Saturday. "Elections are fought on big slogans without much nuance or detail. I think we want a president who responds to what he sees when he actually gets in there and sees the whole picture, rather than one who adheres rigidly to what he said before." News of the three-month delay being considered by the administration was first reported in the New York Times.

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