WASHINGTON, June 2, 2010— -- Sixteen months after the Obama administration ordered the closure of the U.S. military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, more than 180 detainees remain at the base, stuck in political and legal limbo that appears likely to persist at least through the end of the year.
Congress and the administration, facing the realities of election-year politics and a litany of legal and security concerns, remain at an impasse about what do to with the dozens of detainees cleared for release abroad, those slated for prosecution in military or civilian courts and others to be held indefinitely without charge.
"Numerically speaking, the Obama administration has made some progress toward closing Guantanamo by transferring and releasing detainees abroad," said Matthew Waxman, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs in the George W. Bush administration. "But, legislatively, they've been losing ground and are now worse off than when they started because of congressional restrictions."
The pending 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, which is the latest flash point in the Guantanamo debate, would slow the transfer of detainees to their home or third-party countries, hinder a future transfer of detainees to U.S. soil and block funds to buy or build a replacement for Guantanamo in the United States.
But Congress' tight hold on the purse strings isn't the only roadblock to closing Guantanamo. Here are five more:
One of the key unresolved questions is where to try and hold the 36 detainees the administration plans to prosecute in military and civilian courts.
Attorney General Eric Holder said late last year that the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged terrorists held at Guantanamo would take place in U.S. federal court in New York City. But the decision came under immediate fire -- even from friends of the administration -- by critics who believed that sending the men to the scene of the crime for trial raised too many financial and security concerns. The administration has now taken the issue back under consideration.
Meanwhile, the administration's plans to acquire the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to house some of the detainees from Guantanamo Bay, which critics have assailed as "Gitmo North," remain stalled in Congress, which has rejected funding for the prison and remains reluctant to change a law that prohibits uncharged detainees from being brought to U.S. soil.
While Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was pleased with the decision and the economic opportunity it could provide for a depressed area of Illinois, others have worried that bringing the accused terrorists to America's heartland would effectively put a bull's-eye there for terrorists.
Still, the White House says it intends to eventually utilize the facility, citing the precedent of more than 350 convicted terrorists already serving time in U.S. prisons and the economic advantage such a facility would provide.
"The Department of Defense currently spends approximately $150 million per year for detention operations at Guantanamo ... operating costs will be cut in half at Thomson," national security adviser Gen. James Jones wrote in a letter to Congress last week.