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Obama won’t seek new legislation for terror detentions

The decision comes as the Obama administration is hitting snags in its effort to close Guantanamo prison by January.

By David MonteroCorrespondent / September 25, 2009



Although US President Barack Obama pledged to close the controversial military prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year of taking office, administration officials now say they are unlikely to meet that deadline due to a series of political complexities and lack of foresight.

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In addition, after a review of existing Congressional legislation, the administration decided it has the legal authority to hold indefinitely terrorism suspects even when they cannot be charged with a crime, a stance which echoes that of the Bush administration.

Since its creation shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been a source of controversy, as Reuters details: "There are about 229 men still held at the military prison on a U.S. Navy base in Cuba. The United States has been widely criticized for the detention of suspects there for years without trial."

The New York Times reports that Obama, in not seeking new legislation from Congress for a new system of detention, is taking a stance that hews toward that of the Bush administration, although with certain key differences:

In concluding that it does not need specific permission from Congress to hold detainees without charges, the Obama administration is adopting one of the arguments advanced by the Bush administration in years of debates about detention policies.
But President Obama’s advisers are not embracing the more disputed Bush contention that the president has inherent power under the Constitution to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely regardless of Congress.

The administration is also having trouble with an earlier pledge to close the prison within a year, due to political complications, the Washington Post reports:

The White House has faltered in part because of the legal, political and diplomatic complexities involved in determining what to do with more than 200 terrorism suspects at the prison. But senior advisers privately acknowledge not devising a concrete plan for where to move the detainees and mishandling Congress…
To empty the prison, the administration will need to find facilities to house 50 to 60 prisoners who cannot be released and who cannot be tried because of legal impediments, according to an administration official. The administration must also win congressional funding for the closure process, find host countries for detainees cleared for release, and transfer dozens of inmates to federal and military courts for prosecution.

The announcements have met with mixed reviews, as captured by this editorial in the Detroit Free Press:

The bad news is that President Barack Obama, like his predecessor, has decided he has sufficient legal authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely even when they cannot be charged. The good news is that Obama has apparently jettisoned plans to seek a new preventive detention law that would have institutionalized this dubious practice and made it even harder for those mistakenly held captive to challenge their imprisonment.

Although many critics – including Obama himself – have called for Guantanamo’s closing, some argue it is the wrong move. Anne Marie Drew, an English teacher at the US Naval Academy, wrote recently in an opinion piece for The Christian Science Monitor:

President Obama is determined to close these camps by winter. Gitmo, he said in May, "has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.... By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it."
It will be wrong to close these camps, in what can only be a symbolic gesture, simply for the sake of closing them.
Whatever moral authority America has lost by its treatment of these detainees will not be regained by moving them. Whatever mistakes we made will not be erased. Closing Gitmo will not make us safer.

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