Guantanamo Detainees Should be Transferred to U.S. for Prosecution by Federal Courts

Military commissions and indefinite detention betray legal traditions and values, says Constitution Project

CONTACT: Matthew Allee, (202) 580-6922 or

WASHINGTON – Over the weekend, it was reported that the Obama administration is considering whether to modify a detention facility in the United States to contain courtrooms to hold both federal criminal trials and military commission proceedings for some suspected terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay. More recently, a conflicting account also from administration officials said the Justice Department is referring detainee cases to federal prosecutors in New York City, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The Constitution Project welcomes the possible transfer of detainees into federal detention facilities and courts, while denouncing the potential use of military commissions and/or indefinite detention without charge. The use of commissions or indefinite detention circumvents our constitutional values and ignores the ability of our traditional federal court and prison systems to successfully handle those held at Guantanamo.

The following can be attributed to Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project:

“The Obama administration is rightly looking for a way to transfer the detainees at Guantanamo Bay into the United States’ justice system. But bringing them here for the purpose of prosecution by military commissions or indefinite detention without charge does nothing more than transfer Guantanamo onto the mainland. It is not only Guantanamo, but the policies the detention facility has come to represent, that betray American values and damage our national security. Reliance on our federal court system would provide the needed break from these policies to restore the rule of law in America.”

The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee, made up of legal and national security experts representing the full political spectrum, issued “A Critique of ‘National Security Courts’” in 2008. Committee members include Alberto Mora, Thomas Pickering, Suzanne Spaulding, and William H. Taft, IV. In the report, the Committee states:

“We believe that the government can accomplish its legitimate goals using existing laws and legal procedures without resorting to such sweeping and radical departures from an American constitutional tradition that has served us effectively for over two centuries.”

Click here to view a copy of the report, updated in March to include additional endorsements from former federal judges and prosecutors.

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