News Release ~ 03/07/2011

White House to Resume Military Commissions; Indefinite Detention Also Approved

Washington, DC (March 7, 2011) – This afternoon President Obama issued an Executive Order lifting the ban on military commission prosecutions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and institutionalizing the practice of indefinite detention for detainees the administration prefers not to prosecute at all, many of whom were subject to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” and prolonged secret CIA detention. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers still opposes military commission proceedings and unlawful indefinite detention.

Military commissions continue to fall far short of American principles of fairness and due process. Despite modest improvements over the Bush-era commissions, the current system still permits the government to introduce hearsay and statements obtained through coercion. Combined with the assertion that 47 detainees will continue to be held indefinitely, now pursuant to an official review policy, today’s news confirms that the administration is either unwilling or unable to end the fundamental abuses of power that have defined Guantanamo for the last decade.

“Detainees should be charged in federal courts or released. Military commissions and indefinite detention, however repackaged, are no substitute for the criminal justice system, which has safely and capably handled hundreds of terrorism prosecutions since September 11, 2001,” said Jim Lavine, President of NACDL. “Guantanamo-lite is still Guantanamo. President Obama should be focused on reducing its population to zero, not on establishing a new framework for its future operation.”

The scope of today’s Executive Order appears to be limited to detainees currently held at Guantanamo, but NACDL maintains that such a policy is unacceptable on any scale. NACDL welcomes the President’s nominal commitment to Article III trials and hopes that the President will now take concrete steps to lift the current Congressional restrictions impeding federal court prosecutions and resettlement efforts.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL’s 10,000-plus direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling more than 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system. 

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