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Obama orders resumption of Guantanamo trials

8 March, 2011

Washington, (IANS) Reversing his own orders, US President Barack Obama has cleared the way for resumption of trials by military commissions to prosecute alleged terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama, who had during the 2008 poll campaign pledged to close the controversial detention facility, said his administration remains committed to doing so, but will rescind its previous suspension on bringing new charges before military commissions.

Obama also called for prosecuting Guantanamo detainees in US criminal courts when appropriate, and issued an executive order calling for periodic reviews of suspects held under indefinite detention.

The steps followed through on Obama's previous call to reform the process of prosecuting or holding Guantanamo detainees to make it more in line with international laws and standards, according to senior administration officials cited by CNN.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Centre for Constitutional Rights both criticised the administration for what they called institutionalising indefinite detention of terrorism suspects who have yet to be formally charged or designated for transfer to another country, but are considered too dangerous to set free.

Established in response to the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, the Guantanamo Bay facility has been a lightning rod for criticism of the US handling of terrorism suspects.

Obama previously pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay facility within a year of taking office in January 2009, prompting criticism from conservatives.

In addition, his administration has sought to prosecute some high-profile detainees - such as alleged Sep 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - in civilian courts on the US mainland, which drew widespread opposition that crossed traditional party lines.

The Guantanamo facility remains open today due to legal complexities involving the status of some detainees and congressional opposition to holding trials for high-profile suspects in US criminal courts.

Shortly after Obama's announcement Monday, Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced the withdrawal of his prior suspension of new charges before military commissions.

Gates cited reforms of the military commissions under a 2009 law, and he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen both expressed support for also using civilian courts to prosecute terrorism suspects.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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