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Obama orders 120-day hiatus in Guantanamo cases

The Canadian Press

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — U.S. President Barack Obama wasted little time following his swearing-in Tuesday in telling prosecutors at the war-crimes cases here at this infamous prison to seek a 120-day adjournment.
The verbal order was made late in the day through Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, and the prosecution complied by filing the request with the judges in the cases of Canadian Omar Khadr and the accused conspirators in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and secretary of defence, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings . . . until 20 May, 2009," the motion states.
It says the adjournment is needed to permit the new president and his administration "time to review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions."
The hiatus would also allow the administration enough time to review the cases of the individual detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to evaluate those who are not approved for release or transfer to see "whether prosecution may be warranted for any offences" they may have committed.
During the review, the administration would also decide on the appropriate forum to prosecute any cases.
Pre-trial hearings in the cases against the five men accused of direct involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States and Mr. Khadr, accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan, were slated to resume Wednesday morning.
Instead, the motion will argued before two judges.
It will be up to the judges as to whether to grant the continuance, which would apply to all 21 cases currently in motion.
The defence has been vocal in saying it would not support such a motion, saying the charges should instead be stayed because an adjournment would simply leave the accused in limbo for four more months.
During his candidacy, Mr. Obama made it clear he planned to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, and also expressed disdain for the military commission process, which has been condemned internationally and, increasingly, domestically.
A key civil liberties group called Mr. Obama's move a "step in the right direction" but still "inadequate."
Jamil Dakwar, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the president had sent the right message: the military commissions system is "questionable."
"Unconditional withdrawal of charges is warranted," Mr. Dakwar said in an interview.
"This flawed system cannot exist one day longer, and giving it another 120 days will only continue to taint and tarnish the U.S. reputation in the world."
Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, who is defending Mr. Khadr, earlier denounced any prosecution attempt to suspend the current proceedings as a "last-ditch effort to save this disgusting mess."
Col. Peter Masciola, the head of defence for the commissions, said the commissions should be scrapped altogether, although it was not immediately clear whether he would fight the prosecution request, coming as it did from the president.
"(The prosecutors) don't, like us, think that the commissions process is fundamentally flawed and don't meet our constitutional . . . standards," Col. Masciola said.
The defence wants the charges withdrawn without prejudice, meaning the men could later be tried either in a federal court or military court.
Mr. Khadr, 22, is in the last throes of a pre-trial hearing on charges he killed an American soldier in Afghanistan in July, 2002, when he was just 15.
His trial was to have started next week.

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