Closing Guantánamo prison may force new rules for trying terrorists
Obama will have to find a new balance between civil liberties and national security.
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"It is easy to criticize. It is much harder to lead when you are accountable for the security of the country," says Charles "Cully" Stimson, who served as deputy assistant Defense secretary for detainee affairs in the Bush administration.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Stimson says he has personally reviewed every Guantánamo detainee file several times. "The incoming administration will see that there are some very dangerous people [at Guantánamo] who were appropriately detained and need to continue to be out of circulation in the world terrorism market," he says. "What you do with them is the $100,000 question."
Stimson says, "Certainly there are a number of them who could be tried in federal district court, and that should happen. Others probably are better suited for a national -security court." He adds, "There are a very small number that may be appropriate for a preventative detention regime – a baker's dozen or less."
Among those advocating creation of a national-security court is University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora. The professor is a retired lieutenant colonel and former military judge in the Israel Defense Forces.
Sensitive terrorism cases in Israel were sometimes conducted behind closed doors to protect intelligence sources and methods, he says. In such cases, Mr. Guiora wore two hats. As a military judge, it was his job to assess the credibility of evidence and intelligence reports. But because part of the trial was being conducted in secret – outside the presence of the suspect and his counsel – Guiora also had to adopt the adversarial role of defense counsel.
He says the US should develop a similar system of domestic terror courts with the flexibility and expertise to safeguard national security and civil liberties. Instead of using military judges, such a court should be staffed by civilian federal judges, preserving the separation of powers, he says. One advantage of specialized courts is the ability to prevent leaks of sensitive intelligence information, he says.
"At the end of the day we are talking about sources. Source-protection is a must in the context of counterterrorism," Guiora says. "Without sources, there is no intelligence. Without intelligence, there is no counterterrorism."
Other analysts see such proposals as an attempt to salvage parts of the controversial Guantanamo military commission process by relocating it to the US. "I would be very surprised if the proponents of national-security courts prevail. It seems so incompatible with the direction Barack Obama took during the campaign," says Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress in Washington. "I don't see the logic in trying to fix the military commission system by creating another new system that will probably have similar procedures."
Mr. Gude is author of a June 2008 report on how to close Guantánamo. The report calls for resettlement and rehabilitation of detainees and for the trial of terror suspects in regular federal or military courts. Some prisoners may be transferred to Afghanistan for continued detention. The report rejects any continuation of the military commission process and the Bush administration's preventive detention regime.
Gude acknowledges the process could be dangerous. "The risks are there," he says. "We shouldn't close our eyes to them, but we shouldn't expect to create a system of perfect security, because that doesn't exist either."