White House: Acquitted detainees may not be released

(RAW STORY)   The Obama Administration has indicated it may keep terrorism detainees even if they’ve been acquitted.

Chief Department of Defense lawyer Jeh Johnson told a Senate committee “that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat,” according to a report by Jess Bravin in the Wall Street Journal.

Bravin notes that the Bush administration maintained the same stance, “but its legality was never tested.”

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent characterized Johnson’s response as moving the Obama administration “into new territory from a civil liberties perspective.”

“Asked by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) the politically difficult but entirely fair question about whether terrorism detainees acquitted in courts could be released in the United States, Johnson said that ‘as a matter of legal authority,’ the administration’s powers to detain someone under the law of war don’t expire for a detainee after he’s acquitted in court,” Ackerman wrote.

“If you have authority under the law of war to detain someone” under a Supreme Court ruling, Johnson remarked, “that is true irrespective of what happens on the prosecution side.”

Martinez purportedly appeared surprised. “So the prosecution is moot?” he asked.

“No, no, not in my judgment,” Johnson said.

Additional excerpts from the WSJ article, available in full at this link:

Also at the hearing, Obama administration officials differed with the Navy’s senior uniformed lawyer over whether coerced statements could be used to obtain convictions before military commissions.

… The shape of military commissions is one of the issues administration officials are struggling to resolve so they can meet President Barack Obama’s commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by January…

When running last year for president, Mr. Obama criticized the Bush administration’s military-commission program, which stumbled through years of internal disarray and legal setbacks in an effort to convict aliens of war crimes without affording them constitutional rights.

Johnson also signaled that Guantanamo might remain open after January 2010: “You can’t prosecute some significant subset of 220 people before January,” he said. The Obama Administration plans to continue to detain some of those inmates suspected of terrorist ties, “whether at Guantanamo or somewhere else.”


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