Some Guantanamo inmates could soon be prosecuted before controversial U.S. military commissions as President Barack Obama's administration prepares to lift a ban on the initiation of new cases against detainees held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba.
That's according to a report published on January 19 by "The New York Times."
The halt on new cases against Guantanamo detainees was imposed on the day of Obama's 2009 inauguration.
Obama had initially vowed to prosecute some of the inmates in civilian courts and shut down the much-criticized prison within a year of taking office.
But Congress last month blocked military funds for the transfer of detainees to a prison in the U.S. state of Illinois, effectively quashing the administration's proposal to steer away from military tribunals.
Ten members of the House Armed Services Committee -- which, in the new Republican-majority House of Representatives is led by Representative Howard McKeon -- visited the detention center at Guantanamo Bay last week to inspect the facilities.
At a press conference following their return to Washington, McKeon said the group had thrown the committee's support behind keeping the center open. The declaration was the strongest indication of the opposition Obama will face if he tries to fulfill his promise to close the facility and transfer prisoners to super-max prisons in the United States.
"Our nation has invested millions of dollars in building state-of-the-art, humane, and safe facilities to detain and prosecute the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo," McKeon said on January 18. "It would be physically and morally irresponsible to shutter the facility at this time and invest in new facilities in the United States at a time when our nation is tightening its belt."
News of the White House's decision to allow new military trials at Guantanamo has sparked outrage among critics of the military commissions system.
One of them is Bill Bowring, a professor of international human rights law at the University of London's Birkbeck College, who describes the situation as "outrageous."
"Obama has simply not been able to stand up to the interest groups, and I don't think it's Congress particularly. I think it's the military, in particular, and the security establishment," Bowring says. "So it's extremely disappointing, particularly for those in the United States who campaigned so hard for him."
Critics say the system of military commissions lacks sufficient legal protections for those charged, partly because it accepts hearsay evidence that may have been obtained through torture and other cruel means.
"The New York Times" report, citing unnamed administration officials, says charges could be brought within weeks against some of the more than 30 Guantanamo detainees who have been designated for eventual prosecution by the Justice Department.
Accused Cole Bomber
The report says one of the inmates prosecutors are likely to focus on is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.
Nashiri had been charged under Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, but his case was later dropped. In November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder designated Nashiri for trial in a military commission.
Should his prosecution go ahead, Nashiri could become the first so-called "high-value" Guantanamo detainee to undergo trial before a military tribunal in Cuba.
His prosecution would also draw much attention since Nashiri is one of three Guantanamo inmates known to have been subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding while previously held at a secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prison.
Polish prosecutors investigating a now-closed CIA jail have granted him "victim status."
According to "The New York Times," another candidate for prosecution is Ahmad al-Darbi, a Saudi accused of plotting an attack on oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, a strategic waterway between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The attack was foiled.
Some 170 inmates remain at the Guantanamo detention camp, established in Cuba in 2002 by the Bush administration as an entity beyond the reach of U.S. courts.
The jail has drawn strong criticism from human rights groups around the world amid reports that inmates were being tortured and mistreated.
written by Claire Bigg