(by Eli Lake and Kara Rowland, WashingtonTimes.com) – President Obama on Monday lifted the ban he imposed two years ago on military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison (“Gitmo”), ending his bid to move most terrorism trials to civilian courts and pushing his already busted deadline for shuttering the island prison indefinitely forward.

The reversal came as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Afghanistan and indicated that he was willing to keep a presence of U.S. forces in the war-torn country beyond the Obama administration’s 2014 pullout goal, highlighting again the difficulty the president has had moving from the policies of President George W. Bush. …..

White House aides stressed that Mr. Obama remains committed to closing the prison, which he has described as a key recruiting tool for terrorist groups, and pursuing some cases in civilian courts. Mr. Obama vowed during the campaign to close the prison by the end of 2009, his first year in office.

“Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions, and ensure the humane treatment of detainees,” Mr. Obama said in a statement accompanying the order. “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, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system – including Article III Courts – to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened.” [NOTE: Article III courts are certain federal courts, including the Supreme Court and the lesser courts established by Congress:  the 13 courts of appeals, the 94 district courts, and the U.S. Court of International Trade. They constitute the judicial branch of the government (which is defined by Article III of the Constitution).]

Rep. Howard McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, praised the move but said he was disappointed that the White House did not work with Congress on this decision.

“It’s baffling to me that the White House, which prides itself on operating differently than its predecessor, would repeat the same mistakes by refusing to work with Congress to create a comprehensive plan for the long-term detention and prosecution of detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” he said in a statement.

Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s national security program, also criticized the decision.

“This is a major step backwards and in the wrong direction because the best and most effective way to get out of the Guantanamo morass is to use the criminal justice system,” she said.

When Mr. Obama took office in 2009, 242 detainees were at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, the administration has transferred 67 detainees to other countries. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks reveal that U.S. diplomats have had problems persuading foreign governments in many cases to take back some of the detainees.

The president suspended additional military cases in January 2009, when he signed an executive order calling for the closure of the prison within one year. That goal since has met strong bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill.

In December, Congress passed a Defense Authorization Bill that prohibited the Pentagon from sending detainees from Guantanamo to the United States, effectively tying the president’s hands on the use of civilian trials for suspected terrorists.

The U.S. has convicted and sentenced six detainees, including Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, Osama bin Laden’s media specialist who told jurors he had volunteered to be the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker. He is serving a life sentence at Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, the first Guantanamo detainee tried in civilian court – in New York – was convicted in November on just one of more than 280 charges that he took part in the al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. That case ignited strident opposition to any further such trials.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, praised Mr. Obama’s decision.

“Without a process that ensures timely trials for those accused of a crime, the courts could ultimately order that certain detainees be released,” he said. “This is unacceptable and the executive order announced today helps clear the way to charge and try our enemies.”

Not all supporters of the Guantanamo prison were pleased with the decision.

Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America and a board member of Keep America Safe, said she was upset at the White House after participating in a conference call with families of the victims of 9/11.

“What we heard today is that despite the fact that Congress has closed every loophole for trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in Article III courts, the White House is persistent in defying the will of the American people and plans to do it anyway,” she said.  [NOTE: Article III courts are certain federal courts, including the Supreme Court and the lesser courts established by Congress:  the 13 courts of appeals, the 94 district courts, and the U.S. Court of International Trade. They constitute the judicial branch of the government (which is defined by Article III of the Constitution).]

The first Guantanamo trial likely to proceed under the new order would involve Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2006.


Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.  Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.


1. What announcement did President Obama make this week that reversed his position on detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison (“Gitmo”)?

2. What action will Defense Secretary Gates take regarding Afghanistan that is different from the President’s stated goal of pulling all troops out of the country?

3. What vow did Barack Obama make regarding Gitmo when he was campaigning for president?

4. What would House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard McKeon have liked President Obama to do when making his decision about the Gitmo prisoners?

5. Why did the ACLU criticize President Obama’s policy reversal on Gitmo detainees?

6. Why did the outcome of the first civilian trial for a Gitmo terrorist cause strong opposition to any further such trials?

7. Debra Burlingame is the sister of Charles “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11 by Al Qaeda terrorists. Why is she upset about President Obama’s announcement?

8. Ask a parent if he/she approves of the president’s reversal on Gitmo detainees and to explain his/her answer.


(from a commentary posted at wsj.com)

  • The real test of [President Obama’s change in policy] will be if he puts the guts back into the [military] tribunal process, restoring the funding and talent necessary to handle complex prosecutions that have been lost over the years amid the assault on Gitmo.
  • [One problem with President] Obama’s decision, also announced yesterday, to treat as legally binding part of a radical 1977 revision to the 1949 Geneva Conventions known as Article 75 of Additional Protocol 1.
  • President Reagan [rejected] Protocol 1 in 1987 because it [impaired] the distinction between lawful and unlawful enemy combatants.
  • Terrorists fight out of uniform and target civilians and thus do not deserve traditional prisoner-of-war protections. This was the two-decade political consensus until the Bush Presidency. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized in favor of Reagan’s Protocol 1 decision.
  • Our guess is that Mr. Obama has adopted this part of Protocol 1 to appease the domestic left and especially the “international community” that will be dismayed by his new embrace of Gitmo and George W. Bush’s policies. Remember the moralizing Europeans? President Obama is nonetheless complicating the task of U.S. terror fighters, and encouraging further barbarism, by extending the laws of war to terrorists who hold combat restrictions in contempt.


Visit the 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America website at 911familiesforamerica.org.

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