As questions loom over the future for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama says he will restart Bush administration-era tribunals for the prisoners, but offer the men new legal protections, officials have told media organizations.
The changes to the system will be formally announced Friday.
The system is expected to try fewer than 20 of the more than 200 detainees at Guantanamo -- 13 others are already engaged in the tribunal system.
Two senior administration officials outlined several of the rules changes, which will be carried out by executive authority, to the Associated Press and other news outlets Thursday night.
Under the new restrictions, evidence gathered through cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is no longer admissible. Other changes include limits on hearsay evidence, greater flexibility for detainees in picking their counsel, and greater protections from legal sanctions for detainees who refuse to testify, according to the reports.
It will take about four months to make the changes to the legal system before trials can resume.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of Senate Armed Services Committee who has been working with the administration on detainee issues, praised the effort in a statement late Thursday, saying "I continue to believe it is in our own national security interests to separate ourselves from the past problems of Guantanamo."
Another member of the panel, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., also welcomed the administration's decision, saying the president "has reinforced that we are at war, and that the laws of war should apply to these prisoners."
But the plan has not met with universal enthusiasm. Jonathan Hafetz, a national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union said he was disappointed by the president's decision. "There's no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn't be tried in the regular federal courts system.
"Even with the proposed modifications, this will not cure the commissions or provide them with legitimacy. This is perpetuating the Bush administration's detention policy," Hafetz said, according to the AP.
The Guantanamo military tribunal system was set up in 2001, as U.S. Forces were picking up terror suspects in Afghanistan. Since then, three detainees have been convicted through the process.
In February of last year, then-candidate Obama called the trials "a flawed military commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges."
Earlier this year, President Obama signed an executive order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by January 2010, at which time detainees might be brought to the United States where they would receive greater legal rights.
Also Friday, the Washington Post reported that a Guantanamo Bay detainee who lent his name to a landmark Supreme Court case was released from custody and flown to join relatives in France.
Algerian Lakhdar Boumediene, who was named in the Boumediene v. Bush legal proceedings, was freed after France agreed to accept his return, government and diplomatic sources told the Post. Boumediene was one of six men accused of involvement in a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
---- Compiled from wire reports and other media sources