Obama administration reviving military commission system —with changes

US President Barack Obama announced May 15 that he is reinstating the controversial military commission system to try some Guantánamo Bay detainees. Obama said that there will be changes to the system to increase defendants’ rights, including barring statements obtained under harsh interrogation methods and making it more difficult to introduce hearsay evidence. The administration will also seek a 90-day continuance of pending proceedings to implement the new rules, ask Congress to make changes to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to give defendants expanded rights.

Obama said in a White House press release:

Today, the Department of Defense will be seeking additional continuances in several pending military commission proceedings. We will seek more time to allow us time to reform the military commission process. The Secretary of Defense will notify the Congress of several changes to the rules governing the commissions. The rule changes will ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.

These reforms will begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law. In addition, we will work with the Congress on additional reforms that will permit commissions to prosecute terrorists effectively and be an avenue, along with federal prosecutions in Article III courts, for administering justice. This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decried the move as, “a striking blow to due process and the rule of law.” The Constitution Project called the announcement “troubling,” saying, “[m]ilitary commissions are designed to provide lesser due process protections for terrorism suspects than our federal courts do.” (Jurist, May 15)

See our last posts on the torture scandal.

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