Civil liberties advocates reacted forcefully against President Barack Obama’s executive order Monday lifting his two-year freeze on new military trials at Guantánamo Bay.
Repeatedly blocked by Congress in his attempt to transfer detainees from the offshore prison to the United States for trial, Obama threw in the towel Monday, saying that Defense Secretary Robert Gates would soon issue an order “rescinding his prior suspension on the swearing and referring of new charges in the military commissions.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the president’s decision “institutionalizes indefinite detention,” calling it “unlawful, unwise and un-American.”
“The best way to get America out of the Guantánamo morass is to use the most effective and reliable tool we have: our criminal justice system,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said. “Instead, the Obama administration has done just the opposite and chosen to institutionalize unlawful indefinite detention – creating a troubling ‘new normal’ – and to revive the illegitimate Guantánamo military commissions.”
Obama said in a statement Monday he is “announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions and ensure the humane treatment of detainees.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a dogged civil liberties supporter, said he was disappointed with the decision. He called military commissions “legally dubious” and labeled Guantánamo “a blot on our national honor,” insisting that terrorist suspects must be tried in US civilian courts.
“Unfortunately, despite the objections of some of us, Congress has foreclosed that time-tested option through legislation prohibiting bringing detainees to the United States to stand trial. As a result, the Administration has turned to the legally dubious military commissions to try these suspects. It is unworthy of this great nation,” Nadler said.
Republican Rep. Peter King (NY), chairman of the House homeland security committee, praised Obama’s move as “clearly another step in the right direction.”
“I commend the Obama Administration for issuing this Executive Order,” King said. “The bottom line is that it affirms the Bush Administration policy that our government has the right to detain dangerous terrorists until the cessation of hostilities.”
During his first week as president, Obama issued an executive order closing Guantánamo, arguing that the facility had become a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists. But Congress was defiant against bringing terror detainees at the site to the US, limiting the options for the White House.