Hours After Inauguration, Obama Orders Halt in Guantanamo Trials

Prosecutors said that it was “in the interest of justice” to halt the trials until May 20 to give the Obama administration time to evaluate the cases and the need for future prosecution. Mr. Obama’s request, which was filed just before midnight Tuesday, may not immediately be approved by all judges involved and it is unclear if all defense attorneys will agree with a suspension in the trials.

The filing described the halt in all proceedings as intended “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically,” according to the New York Times.

Already, one judge has granted a delay in the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, who was captured when he was 15 years old and is accused of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan.

A ruling is expected as early as Wednesday on whether to suspend the death penalty case against five men, including the so-called mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama had promised that closing down the controversial prison camp in Cuba was a high priority in his administration. The legality of the camp, opened in 2002, has come under increasing scrutiny as questions emerged over interrogation techniques used against prisoners and other issues.

The status of the prisoners and their legal rights also has been the subject of multiple appeals to the Supreme Court.

While the Bush administration planned to try around 80 of the prisoners on war crime charges, only three cases have been completed and around 245 prisoners are still held at the detention center.

Human rights lawyers have urged the Obama administration to take the Guantanamo cases out of military court and move them to regular U.S. courts for trial. Defense lawyers for Guantanamo prisoners have often complained that the military trials were based on hearsay and coerced testimony.

“This is a good step in the right direction, although we still think that the unconditional withdrawal of all charges and shutting down this tainted system is warranted,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union told the Washington Post. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.”

While many defense lawyers and prisoners may welcome Mr. Obama’s order, there was disappointment among some military lawyers, though they were told not to speak to the media, a Pentagon official told the Washington Post.

“It’s over; I don’t want to say any more,” one official involved in the process told the Post.