Obama orders 120-day halt to Guantanamo prosecutions (Lead)

January 21st, 2009 - 3:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 21 (DPA) US President Barack Obama on his first day in office ordered the suspension of prosecutions at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay for 120 days, news reports said Wednesday.The order, one of Obama’s first acts after taking office Tuesday, was given orally by Defence Secretary Robert Gates to the Guantanamo prosecutors’ office.

The Washington Post, citing a motion filed at the US Navy base, said the order delaying proceedings until May 20, would allow Obama’s administration to review the legal processes at the prison camp and the cases pending there.

Obama had been expected as early as this week to order the closure of the detention centre for terrorist suspects and begin exploring ways to deal with the 250 detainees who remain at the camp. Most of the remaining detainees have been held for years without charges.

Twenty of the prisoners are charged with war crimes and are to stand trial at military commissions.

The military judges’ decision on the motion, expected for Wednesday, could also affect a trial against five men allegedly involved in planning the terrorist attacks Sep 11, 2001, among them alleged plot mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Their trial was planned for this year.

The new administration faced time pressure in particular because of the upcoming case against Canadian-born Omar Khadr, who was arrested when aged 15 in Afghanistan and accused of killing a US soldier.

Khadr’s defence counsel said he was tortured during interrogation and forced to make false statements. US officials only recently admitted that torture had taken place.

Obama promised during his campaign to close Guantanamo, but cautioned, however, that an actual closure could take months or as long as a year.

Gates, who stayed on as defence secretary from the previous administration, started an examination of the steps necessary for closure some weeks ago.

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