Obama Requests Guantánamo Bay Tribunals Suspension

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Obama Requests Guantánamo Bay Tribunals Suspension

Military judges to consider motion filed 'in the interests of justice' within hours of new US president taking office

by
Matthew Weaver and agencies

An image of President Barack Obama is put up in the lobby of the headquarters of the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay. (Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP)

The US president, Barack Obama, has ordered a suspension of the controversial Guantánamo Bay military tribunals in one of his first actions after being sworn in, yesterday.

Within
hours of taking office, Obama's administration filed a motion to halt
the war crimes trials for 120 days, until his new administration
completes a review of the much-criticised system for trying suspected
terrorists.

The motion, which will suspend cases against 21 men,
was filed at the direction of Obama and Robert Gates, George Bush's
defence secretary, who has kept his job in the new administration.

It
will be considered today by military judges hearing the cases of five
men charged with plotting the September 11 attacks, and that of Omar
Khadr, a Canadian who is accused of killing an American soldier with a
grenade in Afghanistan, in 2002. The judges will be required to suspend
the other cases as well.

The halt to the tribunals was sought "in the interests of justice," the official request to the judges said.

Moazzam
Begg, the former British detainee at Guantánamo Bay, urged Obama to go
further. "There is no clear statement about this being stopped and the
whole process being recognised as illegal," he said.

"For myself
and other former detainees, until we see something tangible happening,
we are going to reserve judgment. That is because we have been here
before - Bush has stated he wanted Guantánamo closed."

Human rights groups who are at Guantánamo Bay to observe this week's session of the tribunals welcomed the move.

"It's
a great first step but it is only a first step," said Gabor Rona, the
international director of Human Rights First. "It will permit the newly
inaugurated president and his administration to undertake a thorough
review of both the pending cases and the military commissions process
generally.

"The suspension of military commissions so soon after
President Obama took office is an indication of the sense of urgency he
feels about reversing the destructive course that the previous
administration was taking in fighting terrorism."

Jamil Dakwar,
director of the human rights programme at the American Civil Liberties
Union, said it was a positive step but noted "the president's order
leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in
existence".

Clive Stafford Smith, the human rights lawyer
who has represented Guantánamo suspects, said: "It's great isn't it?
There is no doubt it will stop the practices at Guantánamo. After all,
Obama is now the commander-in-chief." Speaking on BBC Radio 4, he
added: "It's going to take some work but what he [Obama] is looking at
I think here is a very clear-cut distinction between this
administration and the last," he said.

Relatives of
victims of the September 11 attacks, who were also at the base to
observe the hearings, have said they oppose any further delay in the
trials of the men charged in the case.

The requested suspension
came on the day a military judge adjourned the war crimes court just
before Obama was sworn in, noting that the future of the commissions
were in doubt.

Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay
detention camp, which holds 245 men, and had been expected to suspend
the widely criticised tribunals.

The president's nominee for
attorney general, Eric Holder, has said the military commissions lack
sufficient legal protections for defendants and that they could be
tried in the US.

More in: