US president’s decision to revive military trials for some Guantanamo Bay detainees has provoked angry reactions from civil liberties groups.
Although Barack Obama (photo, from aljazeera.net) has denounced the Bush-era judicial system, in a statement he said that new safeguards would ensure suspects got a fairer hearing.
Rejecting statements obtained from harsh interrogations and limitations on using hearsay evidence are some of the new rules.
The US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, still helds 240 detainees.
In January, halting the controversial military commissions was one of Mr Obama’s first acts on taking office, who said the US was entering a new era of respecting human rights.
“It’s disappointing that Obama is seeking to revive rather than end this failed experiment”, said Jonathan Hafetz, a national security attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“There is no detainee at Guantanamo who cannot be tried and shouldn’t be tried in the regular federal courts system. This is perpetuating the Bush administration’s misguided detention policy.”
Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, said : “By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.”
Last year, while on the campaign trail, Mr Obama had called the military commissions “an enormous failure”.
However, on Friday, he said in a statement that he had supported the military tribunals’ use as one avenue to try detainees, and in 2006 had voted in favour of them.
Mr Obama explained that it is because the tribunals used by George W Bush’s administration had failed to establish a legitimate legal framework and undermined swift and certain justice, that he had opposed them.
The statement also said the detainees will have extra safeguards, such as a ban on evidence obtained by harsh interrogation ; restrictions on hearsay evidence ; giving detainees more leeway to choose their own lawyers and protecting detainees who refuse to testify.
In order to implement the new procedures, Mr Obama said he was seeking more time.
“These reforms will begin to restore the commissions as a legitimate forum for prosecution, while bringing them in line with the rule of law”, he said.
“This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values.”
According to Geneve Mantri, of Amnesty International, the US president’s message is confusing.
“It was clear from his announcements soon after he reached the White House what he was going to do”, he said.
“Now it is somewhat confusing what the administration’s standard is or what their policies are.”
Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve represents a number of Guantanamo Bay detainees. He told the BBC that the president was making a “fundamental mistake”.
“He is taking a gravely, truly flawed system, tinkering at the edges and hoping that the world is somehow going to see this as legitimate, as open, as fair – it’s not going to happen”, he said.
However, Mr Obama’s opponents supported his decision.
“I am pleased that President Obama has now adopted this view”, said Republican Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential election to Mr Obama.
President Obama “should acknowledge his campaign criticisms were wrong”, said Ari Fleischer, who was George W Bush’s first press secretary.
“With some minor changes, he really is following the same path President Bush pursued”, he said.
Even though some are disappointed, others see this decision as further evidence of Mr Obama’s pragmatic style of leadership, one that recognises the need to balance the change he has promised with the reality he has inherited, said BBC’s James Coomarasamy, in Washington.
President Obamas has said he wants the Guantanamo Bay camp closed by 2010.
Algerian detainee Lakhdar Boumediene had left Guantanamo Bay for France, said US officials, before Mr Obama’s announcement.
Arrested in Bosnia in 2001, Mr Boumediene was held for seven years, before being cleared of any wrongdoing in November.