Obama orders Guantanamo prosecutors to seek freeze

Hours after taking office on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama ordered military prosecutors in the Guantánamo war crimes tribunals to ask for a 120-day halt in all pending cases.

Military judges were expected to rule on the request on Wednesday at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official involved in the trials said.

The request would halt proceedings in 21 pending cases, including the death penalty case against five Guantánamo prisoners accused of plotting the September 11 hijacked plane attacks that killed nearly 3 000 people.

Prosecutors said in their written request that the halt was “in the interests of justice.”

Obama has pledged to shut down the Guantánamo prison camp that was widely seen as a stain on the United States’ human rights record and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the administration of his predecessor, former President George Bush.

Human rights activists and military defence lawyers had urged him to halt the special tribunals that are formally known as military commissions and move the prosecutions into the regular US courts.

“In order to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process, generally, and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically, the secretary of defence has, by order of the president directed the chief prosecutor to seek continuances of 120 days in all pending case,” prosecutors said in the document.

About 248 foreign captives are still held at the detention centre that opened in January 2002. The Bush administration had said it planned to try 80 prisoners on war crimes charges, but only three cases have been completed. - Reuters

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