By Karen De Young
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Guantanamo Bay detainees who are acquitted by civil or military courts may still be imprisoned indefinitely if the government determines that they pose a national security threat, the Defense Department's chief lawyer said yesterday.
"The question of what happens if there's an acquittal is an interesting question -- we talk about that often within the administration," Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said at a Senate hearing.
"If, for some reason, he's not convicted for a lengthy prison sentence, then, as a matter of legal authority, I think it's our view that we would have the ability to detain that person," he said.
The Obama administration is reviewing the cases of 229 detainees remaining in the military prison in Cuba to determine whether individual prisoners will be released, tried in U.S. civilian courts or by special military commissions, or held indefinitely without trial.
A special task force is due to report to President Obama this month on guidelines for those determinations, although the individual case reviews will not be completed until the fall. Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo facility, established by the Bush administration in early 2002 to house terrorism suspects, by the end of the year.
Military commissions set up by the Bush administration to try the detainees were rejected by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. The court also rejected a 2006 attempt by Congress to revise the commissions. Obama said during his presidential campaign that he thought prosecutable cases should be tried in civilian courts, but in May he said he would preserve the commissions in some form.
The Senate Armed Services Committee last month passed new commissions legislation, providing more rights for defendants, as part of the 2010 defense authorization bill.