Guantanamo detainees may be allowed offshore guilty pleas

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced it included a provision that would allow Guantanamo Bay detainees to enter federal guilty pleas through teleconference in the 2017 fiscal year bill.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

In this photo released by the US military, dawn arrives at the now abandoned Camp X-Ray, which was used as the first detention facility for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants who were captured after the Sept. 11 attacks at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

An annual bill provision that would allow Guantanamo Bay detainees to plead guilty to criminal charges in federal courts via video teleconference is being considered by the US Senate.

On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced that it included the provision in the 2017 fiscal year bill. The provision, which now goes to the US Senate would authorise guilty pleas through video teleconference.

If passed, the provision would relatively ease congressional bans that block US President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the controversial prison.

This version of the annual bill would largely extend existing provisions. However, it would also allow temporary detainee transfers to US soil for emergency medical treatment.

Existing congressional bans include prohibition of the use of funds for transferring Guantanamo detainees to the US for detention or trial in federal courts.

Due to congressional blockage, military commissions are the only mechanisms that can carry out legal proceedings in the prison.

The US president says “this type of use of military commissions should not set a precedent for the future,” while pointing out that the best option for trying terrorism suspects is federal courts with their “outstanding record.”

Human Rights Watch says military commissions “are mired in excessive secrecy, fail to adequately protect attorney-client privileged communications, and permit the introduction of coerced evidence.”

Obama wants to make good on his long-time pledge to close the Guantanamo prison before the end of his presidency. However, since 2009, US Congress has been using its power over spending to block efforts to close Guantanamo.

There are now 80 prisoners left at the controversial military prison. Most have been held without charge or trial for more than a decade, drawing international condemnation.