"I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do," Obama said in an exclusive "This Week" interview with George Stephanopoulos, his first since arriving in Washington.
"It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," the president-elect explained. "Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication. And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true. And so how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."
But Obama said unequivocally that it will close. "I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."
Obama said that he is not ruling out prosecution for crimes committed by the Bush administration and left open the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor or commission to independently investigate abuses of power and illegal activity.
Obama's comments came in response to the most popular question on his own Web site, www.change.gov, which has received 23,000 votes on the "Open for Questions" portion of the site. Bob Fertik of New York who runs the Democrats.com Web site asks Obama, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor -- ideally Patrick Fitzgerald -- to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?"
"We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law." Obama said. "But my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."
When pressed by Stephanopoulos as to whether he will instruct his Justice Department to investigate such accusations, Obama deferred to his nominated attorney general, Eric Holder.
"When it comes to my attorney general he is the people's lawyer... His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past."