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Obama revives military trials at Guantanamo

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[October 29, 2009]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama brought back Bush-era military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday by signing new rules into law that will give detainees stronger legal rights in court.

HardwareObama approved the new rules -- most of which he proposed in May -- as part of a $680 billion defense policy bill that cut some pricey and overlapping military weapons programs.

Obama did not mention Guantanamo during a short White House ceremony in which he signed the defense bill.

More than 220 detainees remain at Guantanamo as the Obama administration decides how to prosecute some in U.S. courts and turns over others to nations that are willing to rehabilitate or free them. Additionally, the administration is grappling with how to keep in prison a small handful of remaining detainees who are considered too dangerous to release or put on trial.


The new rules for military commissions replace a system for Guantanamo trials that was put in place during the Bush administration. The old system limited detainees' legal rights to defend themselves at trial, in part by allowing the use of hearsay and coerced statements to be used against them.

Civil rights and constitutional law advocates said the changes that they called improvements still fall far short of guaranteeing detainees' rights.

Jameel Jaffer, a national security attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new system still lets the military prosecute a broader group of detainees than U.S. and international law allows. It also does not prohibit the prosecution of children in military trials.

"The Obama administration has committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo, but closing the prison will have little meaning if the administration leaves in place the policies that the prison has come to represent," Jaffer said in a statement. "The commissions remain not only illegal but unnecessary."

Most of the liberal-leaning advocates want the detainees to be tried in federal courts within the United States, where they will have even greater legal rights.

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The new system was initially supposed to be approved by September, and detainees' cases have been put on hold for months as court officials waited for the rules to be in place. Obama has ordered the prison to be closed by January 22, 2010, but that deadline now also is expected to be delayed.

Part of the problem in closing the prison is where to try detainees who are brought to the United States, and where to send those whom courts have ordered to be freed.

The law signed Wednesday bans any of the detainees from being released in the United States through 2010, but allows them to be transferred to domestic prisons after a review process that, in part, evaluates how much of a risk they pose while being moved.

Some of the detainees awaiting trial were involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and others were swept up in Afghanistan after being targeted as threats.

[Associated Press; By LARA JAKES]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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