The Obama administration may increase its use of controversial military commissions for Guantánamo Bay detainees, according to a New York Times report Jan. 20. Per the report, administration officials plan to rescind an order issued on Obama’s first day in office that halted military commission proceedings 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) in April released a manual for military commission procedures under the Military Commissions Act of 2006. 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 appointed retired Navy Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald as the convening authority for military commissions.
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Martin Scheinin in March urged the administration to abandon military commissions, calling the system “fatally flawed” 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 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 due to concerns about the viability of trying terror suspects in federal courts and, in particular, of meeting federal evidentiary standards.
From Jurist, Jan. 20. Used with permission.