White House delays report on closing Guantánamo

The date for closure is still January, but deciding which detainees are dangerous and which should be prosecuted is difficult.

Brennan Linsley/AP/Pool
In this photo reviewed by the US military, a Guantanamo guard stands in the doorway, as a detainee's cell can be seen at right at the Camp Six detention facility on Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba, Sunday, May 31, 2009.

A key task force set up to help close the terror detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been granted an additional six months to study policy options to complete the shutdown.

Administration officials concede that the issues surrounding the transfer or prosecution of the 229 remaining detainees are difficult and defy easy resolution. But they told reporters in a recent background briefing that extra time was needed to reach an effective and lasting result.

“We wanted to get this right and not have another multiple years of uncertainty around these issues,” a senior administration official said.

President Obama has ordered the closure of Guantánamo by next January. In issuing his executive order, he created a task force and set a July 21 deadline for production of a final report on the closure. In extending that deadline, officials said they are still working toward the “goal” of closing Guantánamo by January 2010 in accord with the president’s executive order.

But the effort has been complicated with Congress recently passing a law barring the transfer of any Guantánamo detainee to the US except for prosecution. Administration officials say they are assembling a comprehensive closure plan that will eventually be submitted to Congress for its support.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, who opposes closing Guantánamo, said the administration’s top priority should be ensuring the safety and security of the American people.

“The delay of the report makes clear that the administration still has no answers for the millions of Americans that do not support closing the Guantánamo Bay facility and bringing terrorists to America’s shores,” he said in a statement.

Administration officials say an intensive review process is underway focusing on each detainee at Guantanamo. They say they are approximately halfway through the prisoner population. More than 50 have been identified for transfer, they say.

In addition, “a significant number” of detainees have been designated for prosecution in either the federal courts in the US or via a military commission process. Officials declined to offer a more specific number.

The task force is awaiting action on a proposal in Congress to amend the Military Commissions Act to provide beefed up legal safeguards for the accused. The reforms are expected to be included in the Defense Authorization bill.

The officials said US efforts to arrange detainee resettlement in other countries is gaining momentum.

“We’re making good progress with a number of European countries and countries outside Europe,” an official said. “Since the US-EU joint statement was issued on June 15, a number of European countries -- Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland -- have publicly said they will accept detainees for resettlement.”

“A number of other European countries have told us they will, but don’t want to be named publicly,” he said. “And still another group of European countries is actively considering stepping up.”

Officials said no decision has yet been made on whether to pursue the long-term indefinite detention of detainees deemed by the administration to be impossible to put on trial yet too dangerous release.

“We haven’t made final decisions on this,” an administration official said. But he added, “There is no intent in the administration to rely on anything other than congressional authorities, no expansion of any authorities, nor reliance or reference to inherent Article II authorities [of presidential power].”


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