The US moved today to halt the Guantanamo war crimes trials, filing motions to suspend proceedings for 120 days until President Barack Obama's administration completes a review of the system for prosecuting suspected terrorists.
The motions, made at the direction of Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will be considered early Wednesday by the military judges hearing the cases of five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks and of Canadian Omar Khadr, who is accused of killing an American soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan in 2002.
In the motion filed for the Sept. 11 case, US military prosecutor Clay Trivett says a continuance is necessary in all pending cases because the review may result in significant changes to the system.
"The interests of justice served by granting the requested continuance outweigh the interests of both the public and the accused in a prompt trial," Trivett wrote. He said the motion was written at the direction of the president and defense secretary.
"It will permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration to undertake a thorough review of both the pending cases and the military commissions process generally," he added.
Human rights group at Guantanamo to observe this week's session of the war crimes court welcomed what appeared to be the looming end of the special tribunals.
"It's a great first step but it is only a first step," said Gabor Rona, international director of Human Rights First. "The suspension of military commissions so soon after President Obama took office is an indication of the sense of urgency he feels about reversing the destructive course that the previous administration was taking in fighting terrorism."
Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was a positive step but "the president's order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence."
Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who were also at the base to observe the hearings, have said they oppose any further delay in the trials of the men charged in the case.
The motion for a suspension came on the day a military judge adjourned the war crimes court just before Obama was sworn in by noting the future of the commissions is in doubt. The hearings were dismissed until Wednesday "unless otherwise ordered."
There are war crimes charges pending against 21 men, including the five charged with murder and other crimes in the Sept. 11 case. Judges will be required to suspend the other cases as well though hearings may not be necessary.
Obama has said he will close Guantanamo, where the US holds about 245 men, and had been expected to suspend the widely criticized war-crimes trials created by former President George W. Bush and Congress in 2006.
The president's nominee for attorney general has said the so-called military commissions lack sufficient legal protections for defendants and that they could be tried in the United States.