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How military tribunals will change under Obama's decision

His modifications ban evidence obtained through cruel treatment and restrict prosecutors' use of hearsay evidence. Also, detainees will have more flexibility in choosing their lawyers.

By Staff writer / May 15, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder appeared Thursday on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. "No final decision has been made with regard to what is going to happen to those 241 people who are in Guantánamo, those who would be eligible for release or transfer.... We're still in the process of trying to make the determination about who's going to be prosecuted [and] who is eligible for transfer or release," Mr. Holder said at the hearing.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Washington

President Obama has decided to keep the system of military commissions created by President Bush to try suspected terrorists – while adding expanded legal protection for defendant rights.

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The move seems an attempt to strike a middle ground, as administration critics on the left want the commissions ended and detainees tried in federal court, while those on the right believe the commission system should remain unaltered.

White House changes to the commissions would, among other things, ban evidence obtained through cruel treatment and restrict prosecutors' use of hearsay evidence.

"I believe that Obama is attempting to be responsive to criticisms of the military commissions," says Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor. "Some of the sharpest complaints were about the [previous allowed use] of hearsay evidence."

The move comes at a time when the administration's handling of detainees is coming under increasing scrutiny in Washington.

Members of Congress are pressuring administration officials to figure out what they're going to do with the remaining detainees at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Many lawmakers from both parties are adamant that they do not want Guantánamo detainees transferred to federal facilities within their states.

The prison is to be closed by January 2010.

"No final decision has been made with regard to what is going to happen to those 241 people who are in Guantánamo, those who would be eligible for release or transfer.... We're still in the process of trying to make the determination about who's going to be prosecuted [and] who is eligible for transfer or release," said Attorney General Eric Holder at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged Thursday that the Central Intelligence Agency misled her about the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of terror detainees. And human rights groups are dismayed about the Obama administration's recent reversal of its position on making public photos that depict detainee abuse by US personnel overseas.