Administration Resumes Military Commissions
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 7, 2011 The Obama administration today announced the conclusion of its review of detainee policies at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and will resume military commissions there.
“We are announcing that we will go forward with new commissions cases,” a senior administration official said.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order today that says detainees held without a trial will go before a Periodic Review Board within a year to have their cases assessed. The board is to include representatives from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department.
The order also requires the attorney general and defense secretary to assess whether prosecution is still feasible and in the country’s national security interests.
In a background call with reporters, senior administration officials said the announcement is consistent with Obama’s goals of reforming the detainee process and of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
“This continues the effort our administration has had since our earliest days in office,” an official said. “We’re continuing the president’s effort to prosecute and bring terrorists to justice that is consistent with our values and national security.”
Prosecutions will follow the regulations of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the rights of prisoners of war, an official said. “This is not about who our enemies are, but about who we are: a nation committed to providing its detainees with humane treatment,” he said.
While continuing to reform the detainee process, another official said, the administration also will work with foreign governments to extradite detainees, and will try to overturn congressional impediments to have some tried in federal civilian courts. The end goal remains to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, which remains a recruiting tool for terrorists, they said.
No detainees will be released in the United States, they said, noting that 67 have been transferred since the facility opened in 2002.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued statements today saying they support the changes, and Gates rescinded his January 2009 order suspending the filing of new military commission charges.
“I issued the prior order to permit the new administration time to conduct a comprehensive review of the status of each Guantanamo detainee,” he said. “That review is now complete.”
Like other administration officials, Gates said it is important to retain the right to prosecute detainees either in military commissions, or in federal civilian courts.
“In addition to bringing detainees to justice in reformed military commissions, I believe it is important that we maintain the option of prosecuting alleged terrorists in federal courts,” he said. “For reasons of national security, we must have available to us all the tools that exist for preventing and combating international terrorist activity, and protecting our nation. For years, our federal courts have proven to be a secure and effective means for bringing terrorists to justice. To completely foreclose this option is unwise and unnecessary."
In his statement, Mullen also noted his support for the resumption of military commissions for Guantanamo detainees, and the continued use of federal courts to try alleged terrorists.
“I believe the national security threat posed by terrorism is real and persistent,” he said. “And I believe it is incumbent upon the Department of Defense to contribute fairly to the process of bringing these individuals to justice. That outcome is best achieved by a full range of judicial options.”
Gates noted that the Military Commissions Act of 2009 led to several key reforms in the detainee process, and another administration official said those reforms will continue no matter where trials are held.
“The military commissions process reform is something the president has made a commitment to,” he said. “So reforms and prosecutions will remain, irrespective of where detainees are held. This is something we’ve achieved and think we should move forward on.”
The administration officials said Obama remains committed to four goals he outlined during a 2009 speech at the National Archives:
-- to bring detainees to justice in prosecutions in either federal civilian courts, or military commissions;
-- to comply with court-ordered releases of detainees;
-- to transfer detainees from Guantanamo whenever possible to do so safely and humanely; and
-- when neither prosecution or other legal options are available, to hold detainees in lawful military detention.