By lifting the ban, President Barack Obama has brought Guantanamo Bay back to the front burner in an effort to resume trials and ultimately close the detention facility. This motion marks the end of a two-year-long ban on any new charges being filed by military tribunals located at the facility.
President Obama stated on Monday in his press release, “I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system – including Article III courts – to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened.”
The legal ramifications of holding the trials on US territory have sparked a firestorm of controversy in recent years. Since the detention facility was initially opened by the Bush Administration in 2002, lawmakers and civil rights advocates have argued over whether or not the Guantanamo prisoners fall under the code of the Geneva Conventions, which complicates efforts to try them by military tribunal or hold the inmates indefinitely.
On another front, many pundits and politicians have argued that the prisoners are not eligible to be tried in a civilian court, as none of them possess American citizenship; a fact which negates any claim to constitutional rights by the inmates.
An equally troubling aspect of this issue is the punishment phase of the trials. If the prisoners are indeed tried and prosecuted, where will they be held? One option is to integrate them into the US prison system, but many lawmakers are stifling that possibility by refusing to take them into their responsibility. A major fear is that a prisoner on US soil would draw a violent backlash by domestic terrorists.
Another option is to simply move the trials elsewhere. However, expediting the terror suspects to their native countries has drawn criticism because it would risk placing them into the hands of persecution and torture; two things which have been forbidden by the US Constitution.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued the following press release which elaborates on the White House’s efforts to keep the trials within the US rule of law:
“The executive order issued by the president today strengthens the legal framework under which we will continue to detain those individuals who are at war with our country and who pose a significant threat to the security of the United States. In addition, federal courts will continue to review the legality of detention of individuals at Guantanamo. While we continue to work to close Guantanamo, these steps will ensure that the detention of individuals there is appropriate under our laws.”
The most recent Defense bill signed in January has blocked the use of funds to transfer the inmates to American soil, however White House officials have stated there would be efforts to reverse the motion.
New Actions on Guantanamo Bay and Detainee Policy, The White House
Statement of the Attorney General on Guantanamo Bay and Detainee Policy, Department of Justice