Closing Gitmo May Be Just the Beginning

President-elect faces fight over how and where to try terror suspects.

ByABC News
December 14, 2008, 7:06 PM

Dec. 14, 2008 -- 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.