December 8, 2008 / 7:29 PM / in 10 years

SCENARIOS: Closing Guantanamo raises some nettlesome issues

(Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to shut the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, presents policymakers with a Gordian Knot of political, legal and logistical questions that would preclude quick results.


Human rights advocates have called on Obama to seal the prison’s fate with the stroke of a pen by signing an executive order on the day he takes office.

But the Obama transition team has said that no decision has been made on how to move ahead on the president-elect’s commitment to shutter the facility. Analysts warn there is a host of complex issues that would need to be settled first, including what to do about the current military commissions system and ongoing trials.


Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also wants the prison closed, believes any effort to do so would require legislation by the U.S. Congress, for example, to deny former detainees the right to emigrate to the United States. He has recommended that the next administration address the subject early in its term.


The Justice Department and Pentagon could create an alternative system that can hold and try terrorism suspects. Nearly 200 of the 250 detainees now at Guantanamo are believed to be people the U.S. government never wants to see released due to the alleged danger they would pose to U.S. security.

Former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, named by Obama as his choice for U.S. attorney general, said in a June speech that prisoners who cannot be released or transferred to their home countries should be sent to military prisons.

But that could pose steep political and legal hurdles.

Some members of Congress oppose keeping convicted militants in any prison within the United States and do not want Guantanamo prisoners in their congressional districts. Some legal experts also fear that prisoners arrested by U.S. forces on the battlefield could ultimately win their freedom by securing federal legal protections if incarcerated on U.S. soil.


About 60 detainees have been approved for transfer to their home countries, Pentagon officials say. But the Bush administration has had little success repatriating them for fear they will be tortured or persecuted in their home countries, or released early.

Five rights groups issued a joint statement last month calling on European governments to grant humanitarian resettlement and protection to those captives who are from nations including China, Libya, Russia, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

Some of the 750 captives who have been held at Guantanamo since 2002 have been innocent people caught up in sweeps or sold for bounties during U.S. efforts to rout al Qaeda and associated groups in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.

Reporting by David Morgan; editing by David Wiessler

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