WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to resume military trials for detainees atÂ Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will open the door for the prosecution there of several suspected 9/11 conspirators, including alleged mastermindÂ Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Obama’s order, which reverses his move two years ago to halt new trials, has reignited arguments over the legality of the military commissions, despite ongoing U.S. efforts to reform the hotly debated system.
But fierce congressional opposition to trying Mohammed and other Guantanamo detainees in the United States left Obama with few options. And it forced him to reluctantly retreat, at least for now, from his promise to shut he prison down.
A handful of detainees have been charged in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, including Mohammed. But the charges were dismissed following Obama’s decision to halt military commissions in January 2009.
Administration officials declined Monday to discuss the potential prosecution of Mohammed or the other detainees. But Senate Republican leaderÂ Mitch McConnell said Guantanamo is a safe location for such a trial.
Guantanamo has been a major political and national security headache for the president since he took office promising to close the prison within a year, a deadline that came and went without Obama setting a new one.
The president and his top defense leaders all emphasized their preference for trials in federal civilian courts, and his administration blamed congressional meddling for closing off that avenue.
“I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaida and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system — including (federal) courts — to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened,” Obama said in a statement.
The first Guantanamo trial likely to proceed under Obama’s new order would involve Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of theÂ USS Cole. Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2006.
Defense officials have said that of around 170 detainees at Guantanamo, about 80 are expected to face trial by military commission.
On Monday, theÂ White House reiterated its commitment to eventually close Guantanamo — which is on a U.S. Navy base on an isolated corner of Cuba — and said Monday’s actions were in pursuit of that goal.
Critics of the military commission system, which was established specifically to deal with the detainees at Guantanamo, contend that suspects are not given some of the most basic protections afforded people prosecuted in American courts. That situation, critics say, serves as a recruitment tool for terrorists.
Obama’s administration has enacted some changes to the military commission system while aiming to close down Guantanamo.
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