President Obama announced Monday that military trials will resume for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, saying he wants to "broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice."
The president issued an executive order outlining the changes Monday afternoon, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates rescinded a January 2009 ban against bringing new charges against terror suspects in the military commissions.
"I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system -- including Article III courts -- to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened," the president said in a statement. Article III courts are civilian federal courts.
The White House said in a statement that the tribunals are an "important tool in combating international terrorists."
The decision was the latest signal that the prison camp will not close down anytime soon, despite the president's pledge when he took office to shutter the facility.
The White House noted that a number of reforms have been enacted to allow for military commissions to restart. The White House said the military courts would follow the "rule of law" and only be used "where it has been determined appropriate." The administration continued to stress the importance of using federal civilian courts where possible, saying they've delivered "swift justice and severe punishment to those who seek to attack us."
"As the administration has long stated, it is essential that the government have the ability to use both military commissions and federal courts as tools to keep this country safe," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement.
"The executive order issued by the president today strengthens the legal framework under which we will continue to detain those individuals who are at war with our country and who pose a significant threat to the security of the United States. In addition, federal courts will continue to review the legality of detention of individuals at Guantanamo," Holder said. "While we continue to work to close Guantanamo, these steps will ensure that the detention of individuals there is appropriate under our laws."
The first trial likely to proceed under Obama's new order would involve Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2006.
Closure of the facility has become untenable because of questions about where terror suspects would be held. Lawmakers object to their transfer to U.S. federal courts, and Gates recently told lawmakers that it has become very difficult to release detainees to other countries because Congress has made that process more complicated.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said he was pleased with Obama's decision to restart the military commissions. But he said the administration must work with Congress to create a trial system that will stand up to judicial review.
A sweeping defense bill Obama signed in January blocked the use of Defense Department dollars to transfer Guantanamo suspects to U.S. soil for trial. The White House said Monday it would work to overturn that prohibition.