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USA: Move to suspend military tribunals a positive first step

Amnesty International welcomed the new US administration’s moves to suspend military commission proceedings at Guantánamo as a “positive sign” and said that it hoped it was a “clear signal of this administration’s intention to move away from unlawful practices of the past.”

“This is an encouraging step from the new administration – and one that we hope will be followed by the permanent abandonment of these unfair trials and the closure of the Guantánamo detention facility,” said Susan Lee, Director of the Americas program at Amnesty International.

“Yesterday, in his inaugural address, President Barack Obama underscored the need for a break from the past,” said Susan Lee. “He rejected as ‘false’ the choice between security and ideals, and we welcome that. Respect for human rights and the rule of law is the route to security, not the obstacle to it.”

In a motion filed in Guantánamo yesterday, prosecutors sought a 120-day suspension of military commission proceedings in the case of five detainees previously held in secret CIA custody.

The motion said that a suspension was needed for the new administration to be able to “conduct a review of detainees currently held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to evaluate the cases of detainees not held for release or transfer to determine whether prosecution may be warranted” and “to determine which forum best suits any future prosecution”.

“The Military Commissions Act – like Guantánamo, the secret detention program, and resort to torture – has left the USA on the wrong side of its international obligations. The move to suspend the military commission proceedings is a welcome sign that the new administration plans to right some of those wrongs as a first priority,” said Susan Lee.

“We hope that the new administration will move promptly to dismiss all charges pending under the Military Commissions Act, and that any trials that do take place will be conducted in the US federal court system, without recourse to the death penalty,” said Susan Lee.

Amnesty International has opposed the military commission trials from the outset, as they fail to comply with international fair trial standards, including the prohibition in international law of admission into evidence of information obtained under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or other unlawful conditions.

Background Information
Before the presidential inauguration yesterday, Amnesty International and four other human rights organizations called on President Barack Obama to halt military commission proceedings, and to ensure that the trial of Omar Khadr, due to commence on 26 January 2009, did not go forward. In a decision separate from the moves to suspend all proceedings, the military judge in Omar Khadr’s case yesterday postponed his trial.

The five detainees mentioned in yesterday’s motion were transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006 and charged with capital crimes under the Military Commissions Act (MCA), signed into law the following month.

The motion said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had, by order of President Barack Obama, ordered the Chief Prosecutor of the military commissions to seek a suspension of commission proceedings in all pending cases.

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