Gates on Closing Gitmo: ‘It’s Going to Take a Little Longer’

By Jacqueline Klingebiel

Sep 27, 2009 9:00am

The Obama Administration is trying to engineer a soft-landing for the President's promise to close Guantanamo by January 22, 2010.
Friday morning White House officials told me that some detainees would still be in Gitmo after the deadline after this story broke in the Washington Post. And in our 'This Week' interview, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that "it's going to take a little longer" than promised to close the prison.

Here’s our full exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS:  A major story in "The Washington Post" suggesting that the president's deadline of January 22nd for closing Guantanamo will not be met.  And White House officials tell me that at least some prisoners will still be in Guantanamo on January 22nd and beyond. How big a setback is that and how long will it take to finally close Guantanamo?

GATES:  When the president elect met with his new national security team in Chicago on December 7th…


GATES:  …last year, this issue was discussed, about closing Guantanamo and executive orders to do that and so on. And the question was, should we set a deadline? Should we pin ourselves down? I actually was one of those who said we should because I know enough from being around this town that if you don't put a deadline on something, you'll never move the bureaucracy.  But I also said and then if we find we can't get it done by that time but we have a good plan, then you're in a position to say it's going to take us a little longer but we are moving in the direction of implementing the policy that the president set. And I think that's the position that we're in.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That's where we are. So the deadline of January 22nd will not be met?

GATES:  It's going to be tough.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  And — and how many prisoners will be there on January 22nd, do you know?

GATES:  I don't know the answer to that.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Is it — but, as you said, it's going to be tough and likely will not be met.

GATES:  We'll see.

UPDATE: Later in the program, I spoke with Senator McCain – who has been very critical of how Obama is handling Guantanamo – and when asked about the deadline said: “I never thought it was a realistic goal.”

McCain’s full response below:

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a lot to talk about this morning. Let's begin where he left off on Guantanamo. During the campaign, you had a very strong position that Guantanamo should be closed, but you've also been very critical of the way President Obama has handled it. Do you still believe that Guantanamo should be closed?

MCCAIN: Oh, yes. But the mistake was — and I'd respectfully disagree with Secretary Gates — was that they didn't have a policy as to how to address these very difficult and complex issues. They are more complex than about any that I've ever — the legal side of this, as well as trying to get cooperation from countries to take these people. So the policy should have been formulated and put into effect, and then the announcement. Again, I just disagree with Secretary Gates. The policy should have been formulated and then implemented, and then you would have had a timeframe that you wouldn't have to say, "Hey, we can't keep one of our first commitments."

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think it's good news that this deadline is slipping?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't — I think it's — I think it's bad news in that we would have liked to have achieved it, but I never thought it was a realistic goal, because they still haven't gotten the fine- tuned parts of the — of the policy. In an issue like this, the details are really very important.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you fully expect there will be prisoners in Guantanamo after the deadline?

MCCAIN: All I know is, frankly, what I briefed on, and apparently they're certainly not going to make that deadline. But we should continue to work towards the closure of Guantanamo Bay because of the image that it has in the world of brutality and harms our image very badly.

- George Stephanopoulos

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