By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 21, 2009 - Responding to a presidential directive, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday ordered a suspension of active military commission proceedings at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a senior Pentagon official said here today. President Barack Obama, who had called for the Guantanamo facility's closure during his campaign, directed Gates to pause legal proceedings involving alleged terrorists being held and tried there, pending further guidance from the White House, spokesman Bryan Whitman told Pentagon reporters.
The president directed the secretary, who then directed the Office of Military Commissions, to cease referring any new cases through the military-commissions process at Guantanamo and to request 120-day continuances on all ongoing active cases there, Whitman said.
Whitman said he anticipates that further White House guidance regarding Guantanamo Bay will follow.
"The president has clearly made his intentions well known" regarding activities at the detention center, Whitman said.
Gates has recommended shutting down the Guantanamo detention center since he was appointed defense secretary more than two years ago. In December, Gates requested a proposal for closing the facility.
Gates has stated that requirements for closing Guantanamo include constructing legislation that provides statutory framework for housing detainees outside the confines of Guantanamo Bay, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters during a Dec. 18 news conference.
The defense secretary "has asked his team for a proposal on how to shut it down [and] what would be required specifically to close it and move the detainees from that facility, while at the same time ensuring that we protect the American people from some very dangerous characters," Morrell said.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 established procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses that can be tried by military commission, according to a military-commissions fact sheet.
The detention center at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has housed nearly 800 suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places since the start of the global war on terrorism that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
About 250 people are being held at Guantanamo today, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.