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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Judge OKs first suspension in Gitmo cases

ASSOCIATED PRESS

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba A judge on Wednesday quickly granted President Barack Obama s request to suspend the war crimes trial of a young Canadian in what may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration s system of trying alleged terrorists.

The judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, issued a written order for the 120-day continuance, without even holding a hearing on the question. Another judge was expected to rule later Wednesday on a similar motion to suspend the trial of five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Prosecutors submitted the motions just hours after Obama s inauguration at the direction of the president and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

U.S. military prosecutor Clay Trivett said all pending cases should be suspended because a review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes. Obama has said he will close Guantanamo and many expect he will scrap the special war crimes court and direct that cases be prosecuted in the U.S.

The 120-day suspension has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, Omar Khadr s defense lawyer.

Khadr, a Toronto native, faces charges that include supporting terrorism and murder for allegedly killing U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a grenade during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan when he was 15.

There are war crimes charges pending against 21 men being held at Guantanamo, including the five charged with murder and other crimes in the Sept. 11 case. Before Obama became president, the U.S. had said it planned to try dozens of detainees in a system created by former President George W. Bush and Congress in 2006.

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who were at the base this week to observe pretrial hearings, told reporters they oppose any delay but human rights groups and others welcomed the development.

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.

The decision was also welcomed by the European Union, which repeatedly criticized the Bush administration over alleged human rights abuses at Guantanamo as well as for the military commissions.

The European Commission has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo, said Michele Cercone, spokesman for the EU Justice and Home Affairs Commission.



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