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Obama To Restart Military Trials For Guantanamo Detainees

Handcuffs hang in the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
U.S. President Barack Obama has lifted a freeze on new military trials for terrorism suspects being held at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a statement, Obama said he would allow new trials to take place in order to "broaden [U.S.] ability to bring terrorists to justice."

"I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates," he said.

The decision reverses Obama's January 2009 ban on new trials and guarantees that his pledge to close Guantanamo will be delayed for some time to come.

Imposing a moratorium on trials was one of Obama's first acts as president and came amid a wave of controversy over the treatment of prisoners in the top-security center for terrorism suspects.

The jail currently holds about 170 detainees, including top suspects from the September 11, 2001, attacks and other terrorist attempts against the United States, as well as prisoners from Afghanistan and other countries.

The White House said it would allow new trials to begin after undertaking reforms, such as a ban on the use of statements taken under "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

Still, rights groups are not likely to be supportive of the resumption.

In the order, Obama also established a process for holding detainees indefinitely without trial.

The order said a periodic review of the cases in which a detainee has not been charged, convicted, or designated for transfer will help ensure that they remain at Guantanamo "only when lawful and necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States."

A White House fact sheet said the administration has not abandoned its intent to eventually close the Guantanamo facility, which it has described as serving as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda.

Obama had pledged to do so by early 2010, but opposition in Congress over bringing transferred terror suspects to the U.S. mainland derailed the effort.

The administration reaffirmed its support for trying terror suspects in U.S. federal courts.

The Obama administration has also struggled to find countries willing to take the dozens of prisoners designated for release. To date, the State Department has transferred 67 Guantanamo detainees to third countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Germany, and Latvia.

The first trial likely to begin at the Cuba facility would involve Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the warship "USS Cole."

Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2006.

written by Richard Solash, with agency reports
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