US President Barack Obama [official website] on Monday issued an executive order [text; fact sheet] allowing military commissions for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archives] detainees to resume. New charges in the military commission system have been suspended since shortly after Obama took office in 2009. Monday's order also establishes a procedure for establishing a review process for detainees who have not been charged, convicted or designated for transfer. In a statement [text], Obama said:
From the beginning of my Administration, the United States has worked to bring terrorists to justice consistent with our commitment to protect the American people and uphold our values. Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees. I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice systemincluding Article III Courtsto ensure that our security and our values are strengthened. Going forward, all branches of government have a responsibility to come together to forge a strong and durable approach to defend our nation and the values that define who we are as a nation.The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] condemned the order [press release], calling it, "window dressing for the reality that today’s executive order institutionalizes indefinite detention, which is unlawful, unwise and un-American."
Last April, the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] 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. Last March, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Martin Scheinin [official website] 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.