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Obama: Bring Guantánamo detainees to US, detain some indefinitely

His bid to close the prison camp in jeopardy, he laid out five options Thursday for resolving the detainees' status.

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Obama's five-part strategy

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The president laid out a five-part strategy to draw down the population at Guantánamo.

First, detainees who can be tried in the civilian federal court system for alleged crimes will be transferred to the US for trial. The first such transfer will be Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to stand trial in New York on charges that he played a role in the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania.

Second, detainees with more problematic cases will be sent for trial to the military commission process set up under the Bush administration, except with beefed-up defendant protections.

Third, 21 detainees have already been ordered released by federal judges in Washington as a result of habeas corpus lawsuits. Efforts are under way to facilitate those releases.

Fourth, an Obama administration review team has identified 50 detainees for transfer to other countries for release, rehabilitation, or continued detention.

"Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people," Obama said. Among examples he offered: "people who have received extensive explosives training at Al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans."

He said candidates for indefinite detention without charge would be "people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States."

This fifth category will probably be the most contentious among Obama's core of liberal supporters, many of whom were sharply critical of the enemy combatant system developed under the Bush administration.

A call for executive oversight

Obama sought to distance his proposal from the Bush policy. "We must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded," he said. "They can't be based on what I or the executive branch decides alone."

He said the preventative detention program would be in line with the "rule of law." It would feature defensible and lawful standards and fair procedures, including periodic review, the president said.

"In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man," he said. "If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight."

The president said his administration would work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime "consistent with our values and our Constitution."