Closing Gitmo May Be Just the Beginning

It started as an open-air detention camp in the frightening months after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Two dozen men in threadbare clothing, swept up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, were brought to Camp X-Ray, a holding facility at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and outfitted in orange prison jumpsuits.

Today, seven years later, Camp X-Ray is overgrown with weeds and vines. And the facility built to replace it at Guantanamo is a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art prison complex for about 250 terror suspects, including some the Bush administration bills as the "worst of the worst."

It's also one of President-elect Barack Obama's greatest challenges.

Critics call it a stain on the United States. Obama himself has called the endeavor an "enormous failure" and has said the prison should be closed.

But before closing Guantanamo, the Obama Administration first will have to resolve a host of difficult questions with no easy answers. If the prisons are shut down, where will all these detainees go? What kind of trials will they face? And can they be detained indefinitely?

The Bush administration says Guantanamo is the safest place to keep the detainees and argues that it is appropriate that they be tried before special military commissions, which, because they are closed to the public, safeguard against the disclosure of potentially sensitive intelligence -- but which for the same reason are seen as prone to the abuse of inmates' rights.

"I think people will be most impressed with the openness, the fairness of the process and the extent of the preparation that has gone in to it," said Col. Larry Morris, chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Military Commissions.

Last week, for the first time, some of the families of Sept. 11 victims, chosen by lottery, came to watch hearings for top terror suspects, including the purported mastermind of the terrorist attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. At a news conference afterward, the families were drawn into the political debate.

Asked whether they believed Guantanamo should be closed, all the family members, standing in a row behind the microphones, shook their heads no.

Defense lawyers pushed back, calling the families' visit a stunt staged by the Pentagon to put pressure on incoming President Obama.

"I think this show trial is nothing more today than an effort to blackmail him politically," said Thomas Durkin, who is representing one of the terror suspects.

Nearly 800 terror suspects have passed through Guantanamo since the prison opened. Hundreds have been set free or returned to their homelands. Of the 250 inmates still here, the Bush administration estimates about 80 will stand trial.

The Pentagon says it will close the camp if ordered to do so. It has long argued that before transferring any detainees to the United States, Congress should pass a law saying they can be held indefinitely, even if they are not convicted -- despite the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus.

It is a constitutional fight that could continue well into the Obama administration.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: People stand in prayer after marching about a mile to the police station to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, Aug. 20, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.
Charlie Riedel/AP Photo
A-Rod Buys Meryl Streeps LA Home
Zillow | Inset: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
PHOTO: Jars of Nutella are displayed on a shelf at a market, Aug. 18, 2014, in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
PHOTO:
Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images|Justin Sullivan/Getty Images