The Obama administration may increase its use of controversial military commissions [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, according to a New York Times report [text] Wednesday. Per the report, administration officials plan to rescind an order issued on Obama's first day in office that halted military commission proceedings [JURIST report] and continues to block the government from initiating new cases under the system. If done, filings are expected within weeks, which would represent the first time that new charges are brought against detainees during the Obama administration. Officials are also reportedly drafting a new executive order that would establish mechanisms by which to review the cases of those detainees held without trial.
The US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] in April released a manual [text, PDF; JURIST report] for military commission procedures under the Military Commissions Act of 2009 [text, PDF]. The manual established the rules of evidence and procedure for the commissions, allowing for the admission of certain hearsay evidence and defining "material support" for terrorism. The release came a month after Defense Secretary Robert Gates [official profile] appointed [JURIST report] retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald [official profile] as the convening authority for military commissions. The position oversees military commissions themselves as well as the Office of Military Commissions and, notably, has the power to review and approve charges against "belligerents" pursuant to the Military Commissions Act. UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] in March urged the administration to abandon military commissions, calling the system "fatally flawed" [JURIST report] and beyond hope of reform. Scheinin's comments followed shortly after reports emerged indicating that the administration was considering trying specific suspects in military courts [JURIST report] rather than through the civilian justice system. In May 2009, unidentified sources revealed that the administration would pursue a broad reinstitution of the commission system [JURIST report] due to concerns about the viability of trying terror suspects in federal courts and, in particular, of meeting federal evidentiary standards.