Barack Obama lifts ban on Guantánamo Bay trials
President Barack Obama on Monday announced the resumption of military trials at Guantánamo Bay, after being forced to admit defeat in his bid to close the controversial prison and move inmates to the United States mainland.
The long-expected announcement was an acknowledgement that the detention facility for terror suspects will remain open for the foreseeable future after unsuccessful efforts to try high profile inmates on the United States mainland.
The president reserved the right to try some suspects from Guantánamo in federal prisons, but such moves have been repeatedly blocked by members of Congress and are likely to be obstructed again.
It is now probable that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed September 11 ringleader, and four other accused plotters, will face a fresh set of charges and a new trial at Guantánamo, after plans to put them on trial in New York met with stiff opposition.
“We remain fully committed to bringing the alleged 9/11 conspirators to justice, drawing on the options we have,” said a senior administration official, though he declined to provide further details.
Mr Obama insisted that military commissions would “ensure that our security and our values are strengthened”.
“The American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” he said in a statement.
The White House said key reforms such as a ban on the use of statements taken under “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, and a new system for handling classified information would ensure fairer hearings for the three dozen prisoners awaiting prosecution. Under George W Bush commissions were dogged by legal disputes and brought only a handful of convictions.
The decision to lift the two-year ban on new military trials means fresh prosecutions could begin within weeks. The first suspect to be prosecuted from scratch is likely to be Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantánamo since 2006.
Mr Obama came into office in January 2009 promising to shut the prison on the US naval base on Cuba within a year, viewing its secrecy and judicial system as a stain on America’s reputation and a “recruiting tool” for terrorism.
His administration has succeeded in relocating about 60 prisoners overseas. There are 172 detainees left at the prison, which opened in early 2002 and once housed 800 men.
Mr Obama also ruled that detainees would be entitled to a periodic review of the reasons for their continued incarceration. The US authorities have deemed that about 40 inmates are too dangerous to release but cannot be tried for lack of evidence.
About 90 men, the majority from Yemen, have been cleared for return to their home countries, but have been held up by concerns that they will face harm or torture, or that they would join terror groups.
Since 2005, conditions have improved at the prison, though human rights groups have maintained their criticism of the legal apparatus.