[JURIST] The Obama administration may reinstitute controversial military commission [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] proceedings for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] military prison detainees in an announcement as early as next week, according to a New York Times report [text] Friday. On his first day in office in January, Obama directed [motion, PDF; JURIST report] military prosecutors to pursue a 120-day continuance in the military commission proceedings against five alleged 9/11 co-conspirators [DOD materials], and then ordered [JURIST report] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to implement a halt to the proceedings [DOD press release] pending a comprehensive review of all Guantanamo detentions under the supervision of Attorney General Eric Holder. That suspension is set to expire May 20. According to the New York Times report, unidentified officials said that the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] remains concerned about the viability of trying terror suspects in federal court and in particular of meeting federal evidentiary standards. Sources said that some detainees may be tried in federal courts, and that the administration would heighten military commission defendants' due process protections to exclude more types of hearsay than under the Bush-era system. The report also said that the government may seek additional continuances in pending military commission proceedings, and that such pleadings may contain details of the administration's new system.
Rights groups have long criticized military commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. In March 2008, the president of the American Bar Association expressed grave concern over the military commissions process [JURIST report], noting that hearsay testimony and coerced confessions were admitted even when obtained through now-illegal advanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. As a presidential candidate, Obama declared that he would "reject the Military Commissions Act" [speech text], but since assuming the presidency has not definitively ruled out the system. During a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing [video; JURIST report] last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that military commissions are "still on the table."