Why is it so difficult to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay?
President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to close the military base at Guantanamo Bay within a year of taking office is certainly turning out to be easier promised than accomplished. The process of closing the base, and the detention center there, is quite complex due to the need to place inmates in the proper Federal facilities (which are already quite crowded), and this process is much more more complex to achieve than it was to simply announce during the campaign for the Presidency.
President Obama has organized a task force to make certain “recommendations”, and they have issued what has been described by the White House as “an interim report”, but the same group recommends an allowance of an additional six months to give Obama a full report on how to go about shutting down America’s most controversial prison.
The six-month extension to the recommendation (which was provided for in Obama’s initial executive order) will bring the President’s final report right up to the January 22nd deadline, which would be the anniversary of the President’s order for the camp to be closed. This does not mean that President Obama’s promise will not be kept — rather that Obama’s meeting of his target date could be a very close call. The reason for the closing is simple– Obama says that conditions for prisoners and other ethical concerns that arose from Guantanamo Bay (or Gitmo) have damaged the global standing and reputation of the United States.
This is not the only panel working on Gitmo for President Obama — a second group is examining specific interrogation techniques used at the base in the Caribbean to determine if torture took place there. That panel has at least another two months before their final report is due.
Part of the complication involving the base at Gitmo is the structure of deals made with potential terror suspects. The detainees at Gitmo are in a legal grey area — it is unknown if they should be treated as citizens or as enemy combatants. In fact, the outcome of Obama’s closing of Gitmo will have an impact on all future legal measures used to deal with terrorist suspects. What is clear is that what the American Civil Liberties Union wants will not happen — the ACLU wants all terror suspects detained at Gitmo to be given a fair trial in American courts.
So far, one thing is for sure — military tribunals to sentence terror suspects will continue as they did during the administration of President George W. Bush. How do we know this? Obama’s panel on Gitmo made this clear in their initial report — in fact, most of that first report is dedicated to the legal difficulties surrounding the detainees and how their military tribunals should take place.
One bright spot for groups like the ACLU, who want the detainees to face a fair trial, is that the panel on Gitmo has decided that the first choice for detainees will to be to take a case to a Federal criminal court if this is at all feasible. Decisions on detainees’ ability to stand trial as American citizens depends entirely on criteria laid out for the first time in an addendum to the initial report. Specifics of each case, such as “the nature of the offense” and the “protection of intelligence” will determine what sort of trial a specific detainee will be awarded.
What legal principle would allow certain detainees to enjoy a Federal trial? According to the report, “justice cannot be done… unless those who are accused of crimes are proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law that affords them a full and fair opportunity to contest the charges against them”. This is fairly comprehensible Legalese that has enflamed conservatives and die hards nationwide, people who want to see all terror suspects tried by militart tribunal.
The prison at Gitmo was opened after the attacks on September 11, 2001 — the US began rounding up terror suspects from around the world and detaining them, hoping to stem the flood of potential attacks or perhaps to discover more about the terror plot that unfolded that terible day.
As for the military tribunals that are sure to occue, President Obama and his cabinet broadly agree with the judicial reforms proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee to the law that established the tribunals in the first place. Why did the President have to kowtow to the Senate? The Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that a Presidential order was not enough to set up a military tribunal. The reforms suggested by the SASC include a prohibition on the use of statements which may have been obtained by “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, and a major caveat which requires the laws of war to be kept during sentencing. The report by Obama’s panel justifies the continued use of military commissions and tribunals — their argument? Only military tribunals are equipped to take into account the so called “battlefield truths” — factors in a case that may be impacted by the aforementioned rules of war.
Obama administration officials have constantly denied that the report on Gitmo and its closure is “bogged down” and in fact have said that they extended the deadline in order to achieve a more effective framework for the closure. We know even less about the specific work of the second team, the group focusing on interrogation and potential torture. In layman’s terms, we know that the second panel is asking whether the CIA can do its job effectively after the ban imposed by President Obama on certain methods, specifically any method not described in the Army Field Manual. The second panel is looking into if the CIA must use tactics identified as “torture” in order to effectively interrogate terror suspects.