Goodbye Gitmo, Part 2

Here’s more on President-elect Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay:

President-elect Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, people briefed by Obama transition officials said Monday.

But experts say it is likely to take many months, perhaps as long as a year, to empty the prison that has drawn international criticism since it received its first prisoners seven years ago this week. One transition official said the new administration expected that it would take several months to transfer some of the remaining 248 prisoners to other countries, decide how to try suspects and deal with the many other legal challenges posed by closing the camp.

People who have discussed the issues with transition officials in recent weeks said it appeared that the broad outlines of plans for the detention camp were taking shape. They said transition officials appeared committed to ordering an immediate suspension of the Bush administration’s military commissions system for trying detainees.

In addition, people who have conferred with transition officials said the incoming administration appeared to have rejected a proposal to seek a new law authorizing indefinite detention inside the United States. The Bush administration has insisted that such a measure is necessary to close the Guantánamo camp and bring some detainees to the United States.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he wants to close the camp. But in an interview on Sunday on ABC, he indicated that the process could take time, saying, “It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize.” Closing it within the first 100 days of his administration, he said, would be “a challenge.”


Aside from analyzing intelligence and legal filings on each of the remaining detainees, diplomats and legal experts have said the new administration will need to begin an extensive new international effort to resettle as many as 150 or more of the remaining men. Portugal and other European countries have recently broken a long diplomatic standoff, saying they would work with the new administration and might accept some detainees who cannot be sent to their home countries because of concerns about their potential treatment.


Catherine Powell, an associate professor of law at Fordham, said transition officials appeared most interested at a meeting last month in showing international critics that they were returning to what they see as traditional American legal values.

“They are really looking for tools that we have in our existing system short of creating an indefinite detention system,” Ms. Powell said.

Mark P. Denbeaux, a Seton Hall law professor who has been a prominent lawyer for Guantánamo detainees, said that at a briefing he attended with senior officials of the transition last month the officials seemed to have decided to suspend the military commissions immediately.

“Their position is they’re a complete and utter failure,” Mr. Denbeaux said.

[Emphasis mine]

Closing Gitmo will take a lot of time, nobody is doubting that.  Every case will have be reviewed as thoroughly as possible, and afterwards determinations will have to be made as to the fate of the detainees.  In particular, decisions will have to be made on who to prosecute, who to release and how to release them.

But the fact that Obama will begin the end of Guantanamo Bay in his first week is a huge step, and it’s a clear rebuke of the neoconservative, Bushean policies of indefinite detainment and prisoner abuse–policies that belong in the dustbin of American history.

Closing Gitmo will be the crucial first step in reforming America’s battered image abroad and restoring the rule of law in all that the United States of America does.  It’s about time.