Retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald [official profile] on Monday notified both prosecution and defense lawyers in the trial of five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] that he will be accepting recommendations until early 2012 on whether the trial should move forward as a death penalty case. MacDonald, who was appointed to oversee the military commissions at Guantanamo in 2010, alerted lawyers in the case that they will have until January 15, 2012, to make their recommendations, ensuring that the case will not go to trial at the naval base until sometime next year [Miami Herald report]. The five detainees have been held at Guantanamo since 2006 when they were transferred there from the custody of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website]. The government alleges the men were organizers of the 9/11 [JURIST backgrounder] terrorist attacks, financing and training the men who hijacked the aircrafts used in the attack. MacDonald's communication to counsel also indicates that he will be accepting recommendations in order to determine whether to try the defendants together or separately. A formal arraignment of the detainees is expected to occur later this month.
As the number of detainees at the Guantanamo facility decreases, the issue of what to do with those remaining in US custody continues to be a significant issue. Last year, Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the US government could indefinitely hold a detainee [JURIST report] at Guantanamo, a decision affirmed [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] in September of this year. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] criticized President Barack Obama [JURIST report] for failing to shut down the facility as he promised during his presidential campaign. In December 2010, Obama signed a defense authorization bill that prohibits the transfer of detainees to the US for trial [JURIST report], further confusing the future of the 177 men currently at the facility. In an effort to reduce the population at the facility, the US has been transferring detainees [JURIST report], some to their native countries. In February, 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 at the facility.