WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration probably will bring military commissions charges against about half of the 36 detainees it originally said could be charged, the military's chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo military tribunals said this week.
In 2010, the Obama administration's Guantanamo Review Task Force found that 36 detainees were eligible for prosecution. One of the 36 has since been charged and convicted in federal court, but the other 35 were supposed to be charged in military commissions or in federal court. In a military commission, the "jury" is made up of members of the United States military and the rules of evidence are generally considered more lax. Federal court trials are better established and involve a conventional jury.
Of the remaining 35, 14 Guantanamo detainees have been charged, and seven of those were convicted or pleaded guilty. Five of the 14 detainees were supposed to be charged in federal court, but are now being tried within the military commissions system.
Army Brigadier General Mark Martins told Reuters that of the remaining 35 detainees, 20 at most, including the 14 detainees already charged, ultimately would be charged through the military commissions system.
That would mean at least 15 other detainees would be added to a list of 48 who the administration had planned to hold indefinitely without charges.
Martins said an appeals court decision that threw out the conviction of Yemeni Salim Hamdam because his material support -- serving as 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden's driver -- was not a recognized war crime at the time, dissuaded military prosecutors from filing charges against defendants they wanted to charge with helping the terrorist group al Qaeda.
"With nearly 800 people having been sent to Guantanamo over the years, this represents a total of under 3 percent who will even make it to trial -- let alone be found guilty," Cori Crider, a Guantanamo attorney and strategic director at human rights charity Reprieve, said in a statement. "This shockingly low figure demonstrates what a terrible mistake Guantanamo has been, and just how many lives have been ruined for no good reason.
"Meanwhile, more than half the prisoners still held in Guantanamo have been cleared for release, yet are going nowhere. It is high time President Obama got his act together and delivered on his promise to close this prison," she said.
A total of 166 detainees are currently being held at Guantanamo's detention facilities; 104 are currently being tracked as hunger strikers and 41 are being force-fed.