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Top DOD lawyer urges civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees

General Counsel for the US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] on Thursday urged Congress to allow civilian trials [hearing video] of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees, in addition to military commissions. At a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee [official website], General Counsel Jeh Johnson [official profile] called for Congress to explore all trial possibilities for the detainees, including both military panels and civilian trials permitted under Article 3 [text] of the US Constitution. Johnson's comments followed the introduction of extensive detainee legislation [ASC news release] last week that could prevent further civilian trials for Guantanamo prisoners. Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) [official website] introduced the proposed Detainee Security Act of 2011 [text, PDF], which would not allow detainees who are under review for continued detention to have a lawyer, would permit ongoing detention without trial and would prohibit detainees from being transferred or tried within the US.

Last week, US President Barack Obama [official website] issued an executive order [text; fact sheet] allowing military commissions [JURIST news archive] for Guantanamo detainees to resume [JURIST report]. New charges in the military commission system had been suspended since shortly after Obama took office in 2009. The order also established a procedure for establishing a review process for detainees who have not been charged, convicted or designated for transfer. Last month, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] used the death of a Guantanamo detainee to highlight what it claims are problems with the detention system [JURIST report] currently used by the US for dealing with suspected terrorists. The detainee, Awal Gul, who had been at the Guantanamo Bay detention center since October 2002 and was suspected of having aided the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan [DOD press release, PDF], died of an apparent heart attack after he had completed some aerobic exercises.

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