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Rights groups decry Obama military commissions revival plan

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Saturday harshly criticized [press release] the Obama administration's reported consideration of reviving [JURIST report] the military commissions system to try Guantanamo Bay detainees [JURIST news archives]. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called the plans "fatally flawed," saying the "military commissions are built on unconstitutional premises and designed to ensure convictions, not provide fair trials." The Policy Director for Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] wrote [WSJ op-ed] in Monday's Wall Street Journal, "[s]hould the president decide to abandon a campaign pledge to 'reject' the Military Commissions Act, he will be breathing life into a court system with the fewest rights for suspects of any court in the Western world." On Thursday, AI urged [press release] that, "[a]ny trials of Guantanamo detainees should be conducted before US federal civilian courts in trials that meet international standards."

On his first day in office in January, Obama directed [motion, PDF; JURIST report] military prosecutors to pursue a 120-day continuance in the military commission proceedings against five alleged 9/11 co-conspirators [DOD materials], and then ordered [JURIST report] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to implement a halt to the proceedings [DOD press release] pending a comprehensive review of all Guantanamo detentions under the supervision of Attorney General Eric Holder. That suspension is set to expire May 20. Rights groups have long criticized military commissions [JURIST report] for admitting some evidence that is barred from federal court, including hearsay or coerced confessions. In March 2008, the president of the American Bar Association expressed grave concern over the military commissions process [JURIST report], noting that hearsay testimony and coerced confessions were admitted even when obtained through now-illegal advanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. As a presidential candidate, Obama declared that he would "reject the Military Commissions Act" [speech text], but since assuming the presidency has not definitively ruled out the system. During a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing [video; JURIST report] earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that military commissions are "still on the table."

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