Wednesday, January 21 2009 - 9/11 Consequences
Barack Obama calls halt to Guantanamo trials
January 21, 2009
Barack Obama has wasted no time in getting down to the business of government, asking prosecutors to halt controversial military trials at Guantanamo Bay within hours of his inauguration.
The request was issued via the Department of Defence even as President Obama and his wife Michelle waltzed their way through a series of glitzy inaugural balls.
Mr Obama pledged during his campaign to close the prison camp on Cuba set up in 2001 to hold detainees from the 'War on Terror'. The camp's legality has always been questioned, and former inmates and human rights experts said the harsh interrogation techniques deployed inside it amounted to torture.
Last night's request was for a 120-day stay in the trials of five alleged 9/11 plotters - including the self-proclaimed 'mastermind' behind America's worst terror attack - and of a Canadian accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan. Mr Obama had been expected to issue an executive order as early as today for the full closure of the camp, but accepts that it might take months to rehouse some 250 inmates still held there.
Clive Stafford Smith, the British human rights lawyer who has represented Guantanamo Bay suspects, welcomed the announcement and said that he thought Mr Obama could close the camp within his first 100 days in office.
"It's great isn't it? It isn't much like the original executive order that President Bush issued," he said. "There is no doubt it will stop the practices at Guantanamo. After all, Obama is now the commander-in-chief."
The Guantanamo request was not the only measure taken by the new Obama Administration in its first hours of office. In a memorandum signed by Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, the order went out to put the brakes on all pending regulations that the Bush regime tried to push through in its last days.
Later today, Mr Obama will get down to the bigger task of hauling America out of its "winter of hardship" with his first meetings at the Oval Office.
He will spend the first part of his first full day as president seeking divine blessing for his presidency at a traditional prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral. Then he is expected to call in his top economic officers and advisers to to start the task of repairing the ruptured US economy and shepherd a huge $825 billion stimulus package through Congress.
In a sign of the tough task ahead, the Dow Jones Industrials Average plummeted four percent on Mr Obama's first day in office as investors were spooked by deep problems in the banking industry.
Mr Obama was also expected to meet his top military leaders to fulfill a campaign promise -- telling the generals to formulate a plan to get US troops out of Iraq, and reorienting military efforts towards the war in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, Mr Obama claimed his place in history as the first black president of a nation stained by the legacies of slavery and racial segregation, and told Americans they have to pull together to pick their way out of raging storms.
"We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," the 47-year-old said in a sombre speech which never reached the oratorical heights expected but still had many in a two-million strong crowd in tears.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
RELATED from Monday:
Guantanamo court convenes amid chaos, confusion
By Jane Sutton
GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba, Jan 19 (Reuters) - The Guantanamo war crimes court convened in a chaotic session on Monday with accused Sept. 11 plotters disrupting the proceedings while U.S. government lawyers debated whether an administrative hiccup had left them facing any charges at all.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane plot, tried unsuccessfully to banish all Americans from his defense table in the courtroom at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and complained when the judge asked him to limit his comments.
"This is terrorism, not court. You don't give us opportunity to talk," Mohammed told the judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley.
Mohammed complained when a prosecutor characterized the charges against him and four co-defendants as the "murder" of nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children.
But Mohammed, who has repeatedly acknowledged his guilt on charges that could lead to his execution, later told the court, "We don't care about the capital punishment ... we are doing jihad for the cause of God."
Defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, whose mental competency to act as his own attorney is the subject of an ongoing challenge, told the court, "We did what we did and we are proud of this. We are proud of 9-11."
Problems with the Arabic-English interpretation and outbursts from the defendants punctuated what is widely expected to be the last week of hearings in the special Guantanamo tribunals established by the Bush administration to try non-U.S. captives on terrorism charges.
OBAMA MIGHT FREEZE TRIALS
President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Tuesday, has said he will close the prison camp at Guantanamo and thinks the trials should be moved into the regular U.S. courts. Members of his transition team have hinted that Obama might issue an order freezing the trials shortly after he becomes commander in chief of the U.S. military.
But the immediate question facing the Guantanamo judges was whether the defendants still faced any charges.
The Bush administration appointee overseeing the tribunals, Susan Crawford, quietly dropped charges in all the pending cases in December and refiled them in early January.
It was a technical procedure aimed at updating jury pools that were assigned to the cases years ago.
Defense lawyers argued that the move had the effect of nullifying all the previous rulings in the ongoing cases, restarting the trial clock and requiring that the defendants be served with new copies of the charges and arraigned again.
They noted Crawford was a retired chief judge of the court of appeals for the U.S. armed forces who should have been well aware of the military court rules and that she had signed a letter specifically saying the charges had been "withdrawn" and refiled.
Henley said the documents had been "inartfully expressed" and "negligently executed." But he said a subsequent affidavit from Crawford made it clear that she had intended only to replace jurors who had retired or moved on to new assignments.
He ruled that the charges stood and the hearings could continue.
Mohammed, Binalshibh and three others -- Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash and Mohammed's nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali -- face 2,973 counts of murder, one for each person killed when al Qaeda militants crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
(Editing by Jim Loney and Sandra Maler)
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