Lawmakers freeze funding used to transfer prisoners to US mainland to face trial, undermining Obama’s plans for jail.
|Obama has previously vowed to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but has faced political resistance [Gallo/Getty]|
The Obama administration is considering the creation of a “periodic review” process for Guantanamo Bay detainees who are deemed to be too dangerous to be released, but who cannot be tried in either civilian or military courts.
An administration official said that an executive order had been drafted to establish these reviews for prolonged detentions. The order has not yet gone to the US president.
While the administration sees the process as a way to provide clear standards for indefinite detentions, human rights groups are likely to greet the move with caution. Many such groups have opposed formalisation of such detentions in the past.
The draft order would create a system that would allow detainees and their lawyers to challenge incarcerations, possibly every year, according to the Washington Post, which first reported that the order was under consideration.
According to the newspaper, the order would establish a more “adversarial” process for reviews than the system put in place by former president George W. Bush’s administration.
While Obama has earlier vowed to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, he has run into political resistance at home.
The administration has had to scramble to lobby against legislation currently pending in Congress that would ban the trial of Guantanamo detainees in US criminal courts.
The ban works by preventing the White House from spending any money on transferring prisoners to US soil, effectively derailing plans to try them in civilian courts.
While approved by the House of Representatives, the legislation still awaits Senate approval.
Eric Holder, US Attorney General, has pushed for criminal trials for many terrorism suspects, and has urged lawmakers not to interfere with the administration’s powers to decide how to prosecute them.
Earlier this year, Ahmed K Ghailani, became the first Guantanamo inmate to be tried in a civilian court in the US.
He was found guilty of conspiring to damage or destroy US property by means of an explosive device, but was acquitted on 285 other charges.
He was being charged with conspiring in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people.
Elisa Massimino, head of Human Rights First, said the latest draft executive order should be “limited to certain Guantanamo cases”, as opposed to applying across the board to all preventive detentions.
She added that the any preventive detention policies “pose a serious threat to fundamental rights and are no substitute for criminal justice”.
“Reliance on indefinite detention as a path of least resistance is part of how we ended up in the Guantanamo mess in the first place,” Massimino said added.
There are still 174 detainees at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, and about three dozen were set for prosecution either in US criminal courts or by military commissions.
Republicans have demanded that the trials not be held on US soil.
This demand has received support from some Democrats as well, and the legislation currently awaiting Congressional approval was drafted by members of the Democratic party.
In a May 2009 speech, in which he underscored his pledge to close the prison, Obama said there was a need for “prolonged detention” for some terrorism suspects who could not be tried but who still posed a perceived threat to security.
US officials say trials may not be possible in some cases because evidence was obtained through torture, or is classified.
“We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category,” Obama had said in the speech.
“We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”