Obama starts acting on detainee cases
UPDATE 3:20 p.m. The new White House has begun circulating among selected news reporters some of the contents of a planned presidential Executive Order on the closing of the detention prison at Guantanamo Bay. According to those accounts, the Order will say that “the detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”
The Obama Administration, in its first move to shape the civilian courts’ handling of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases, on Tuesday asked for — and received — a delay in a scheduled hearing in two of those cases. In a filing made soon after the new President was sworn in, the Justice Department asked a U.S. District Court judge for a two-week postponement in cases involving three detainees. The motion (reproduced here) said “the Government is now assessing how it will proceed in the above-captioned Guantanamo Bay habeas corpus cases. Time is needed to make that assessment and determination.”
District Judge Reggie B. Walton on Tuesday evening granted the request, in an order that is reproduced here.
Although the motion was confined to just three cases out of some 200 now pending, the reason for the delay appeared likely to apply to other cases as well. These cases appeared to have been chosen at this point because a hearing had been scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the new Administration also began taking control of the war crimes trials in various stages now at the Guantanamo base. President Obama on Tuesday ordered military proseuctors to ask for a 120-day postponement in all cases “that had been referred to military commission.” (The American Civil Liberties Union has provided a link to the delay request, here.) A military judge on Wednesday granted the request, halting proceedings in the case involving five prisoners who have been accused of war crimes for their alleged roles in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. The Pentagon had told the judge it would be seeking similar delays in “all pending military commissions cases,” reaching another 15 individuals. (The judge’s delay order was not immediately made public, according to the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, at Guantanamo.)
The Obama Administration is now considering what to do both about Guantanamo as a detention center, and about military and civil court proceedings involving individuals captured on terrorism suspicion.
In seeking the 120-day delay of war crimes trials at the military prison in Cuba, the federal government said that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, acting on an order from President Obama, had told prosecutors to ask for the postponement “in order to provide the Administration sufficient time to conduct a review of detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to evaluate the cases of detainees not approved for release or transfer to determine whether prosecution may be warranted for any offenses those detainees may have committed, and to determine which forum best suits any future prosecution.”
The new Administration moved so quickly to suspend the military commissions that the orders of President Obama and Secretary Gates were transmitted orally to prosecutors at Guantanamo, with formal documents to follow at the “earliest opportunity.” The military judge apparently granted the delay, until about May 20, without awaiting those documents.