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Today the White House announced that it is reviving military tribunals. They'll be used to prosecute a small fraction of the roughly 240 detainees who are still imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The tribunals have been plagued with problems. And President Obama was a vocal critic during his campaign. In a couple of minutes we'll talk about this news with our political commentators, E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. But, first, NPR's Jackie Northam reports on the White House announcement.
JACKIE NORTHAM: When Obama announced that the Guantanamo detention camp would close by January 2010, he also froze the trials of several detainees while the new administration reviewed the legal proceedings. The tribunals — known as military commissions — were drawn up solely to prosecute Guantanamo prisoners, and they have been riddled with criticism, problems and legal challenges. Now they're back.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the new tribunals are designed to provide detainees better protections in court than the earlier commissions.
Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): I think the protections that are afforded, that the president will ask the court or will know that he's going to send to Congress to amend, represent a far different system.
NORTHAM: In a written statement, President Obama said the reworked tribunals are designed to give the Guantanamo detainees swift and certain justice. The new rules include restrictions on hearsay evidence. Any evidence collected through torture or abuse will be banned. Detainees can change their military lawyer, and they won't be sanctioned if they refuse to testify. The White House may make further rule changes in the next few months.
Madeline Morris with Duke Law School's Guantanamo Defense Clinic, says repealing the more contentious rules is good, but she says it won't solve the problems surrounding the commissions.
Professor MADELINE MORRIS (Duke Law School Guantanamo Defense Clinic): The military commission system is brand new. It's been made up from whole cloth and is untested. And military commissions were never envisioned as handling these very complex cases.
NORTHAM: The new commissions will only apply to 13 of the detainees whose cases are already underway. It's unclear where the new commissions will be held. There are facilities already in place at Guantanamo Bay, but it's unlikely that the new tribunals will be completed by the time the prison camp is due to close in January.
And reviving the tribunals for just a few of the cases doesn't resolve the question of what to do with the other Guantanamo detainees. Administration officials say they could be transferred to another country or tried in federal court. Some could be held indefinitely.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.
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