President Obama is edging closer to his goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison: Congress has approved detainee trials on US soil and the National Defense Authorization Act, passed yesterday, attempts to repair the damaged legality of President Bush’s military-commissions system. But hurdles remain, with legal scholars split on using the improved military-commissions system or federal courts for prosecutions.
Even “the new law can’t salvage these discredited commissions,” a Human Rights Watch official tells NPR—adding that the rules allow the commissions to handle offenses not considered violations of the laws of war, fatally obscuring their purpose. Other experts worry that prosecutions built for the commissions system—which uses testimony of witnesses from the field, who are not easily available to testify—might not survive the transition to conventional courts. (Read more Guantanamo Bay stories.)