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Obama to retain military tribunals for terror suspects, says official

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2009-05-15

US President Barack Obama is expected to announce his decision to retain controversial military tribunals to try some top terror suspects – a controversial decision reflecting the complicated legal legacy of the “war on terror”.

US President Barack Obama's administration will retain military tribunals for a handful of Guantanamo Bay detainees, despite promises made on the election trail to try them in civilian courts, an administration official has said.


The apparent u-turn reflects the deep conundrum Obama faces as he tries to overhaul the messy and complicated legal legacy of the US “war on terror”.


“Barack Obama has huge problems on his hands,” says Anne Deysine, Professor of American Studies at University Paris Nanterre.


“He can’t have the federal courts deal with the detainees, because they would find that they had been tortured and dismiss the cases – and Obama cannot afford to have these people all set free.


“But he will try to run the military tribunals in a way that is more in line with the Bill of Rights.


“The advantage of using the military tribunals in this way is that they would be a sort of half-way house from which some countries, like France, would eventually be able to take some of the detainees.”


The tribunals would only be used to try the most prominent al Qaeda members like Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.



Interrogation techniques


The hearings would include restrictions on the use of hearsay evidence and curbs on evidence yielded by the use of degrading interrogation techniques such as coercion and waterboarding.


The move comes just days after Obama made another u-turn on the release of prisoner abuse photos, saying their release could affect the safety of US troops and "inflame anti-American opinion”.


Adds Deysine: “Obama has shown that he is not afraid of changing his mind, which is rare in a politician and is a good thing. It can be interpreted as a sign of pragmatism.”


Republicans have attacked Obama fiercely for ordering the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and suspending military tribunals, saying he does not have a plan for what to do with the prisoners.


Republican Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama in the election campaign, spearheaded legislation for the creation of military tribunals as the only adequate venue for trying terror suspects.


McCain said he is working with the White House on finding a way forward.


There are still 241 inmates from 30 different countries being held at Guantanamo Bay.


In eight years, only three detainees have been successfully convicted through the system of military tribunals.





Date created : 2009-05-15