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Obama administration reviving military commission system with changes

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] announced Friday that he is reinstating the controversial military commission system [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] to try some Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees. Obama said that there will be changes to the system to increase defendants' rights, including barring statements obtained under harsh interrogation methods and making it more difficult to introduce hearsay evidence. The administration will also seek a 90-day continuance of pending proceedings to implement the new rules, ask Congress to make changes to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to give defendants expanded rights. Obama said [statement text]:

Today, the Department of Defense will be seeking additional continuances in several pending military commission proceedings. We will seek more time to allow us time to reform the military commission process. The Secretary of Defense will notify the Congress of several changes to the rules governing the commissions. The rule changes will ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.

These reforms will begin to restore the Commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law. In addition, we will work with the Congress on additional reforms that will permit commissions to prosecute terrorists effectively and be an avenue, along with federal prosecutions in Article III courts, for administering justice. This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decried [press release] the move as, "a striking blow to due process and the rule of law." The Constitution Project [advocacy website] called the announcement "troubling" [press release], saying, "[m]ilitary commissions are designed to provide lesser due process protections for terrorism suspects than our federal courts do."

Earlier this week, rights groups harshly criticized plans to revive the military commissions process [JURIST reports]. This is the second time this week Obama has drawn criticism from liberal supporters. On Wednesday, White House officials announced that Obama had decided to seek a delay of the release of photographs [JURIST report] depicting the allegedly abusive treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, reversing an earlier decision.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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