Obama to Order Gitmo Shut Down
Order to close detention facility expected Thursday, military trials suspended.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2009— -- President Barack Obama will sign three executive orders Thursday, to close the detainee camp at the Guantanamo Bay military facility within a year and to establish new rules and guidelines on interrogation methods and the treatment of detainees, sources who have seen a draft of the orders tell ABC News.
The detention center holds approximately 250 inmates, defined by the government as enemy combatants. White House counsel Greg Craig briefed members of Congress about the executive orders today on Capitol Hill.
Last night, just hours after he took the oath of office, Obama ordered Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to direct the chief prosecutor of the Office of Military Commissions to seek a continuance of 120 days for any case that has been referred to the office of military commissions and to cease referring any new cases for prosecution.
This morning, military judges hearing the cases of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of 9/11, and his co-conspirators, as well as a different judge hearing the case of Canadian detainee Omar Khadr, granted the prosecution's motion.
According to the motion filed by the prosecutors, the continuance was requested "in order to provide the administration sufficient time to conduct a review of detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to evaluate the cases of detainees not approved for release or transfer to determine whether prosecution may be warranted for any offenses those detainees may have committed, and to determine which forum best suits any future prosecution."
Obama's action was praised by American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero.
"President Obama's 'time out' comes at the perfect time in these shameful military commissions and shows he means business on Day One," Romero said in a statement issued today. "President Obama has to restore an America we can be proud of again by once and for all shutting down Guantanamo and its shameful military commissions."
But the top Republican in the House of Representatives didn't immediately welcome the move after seeing a draft of the executive order to close the facility and stop the military trials taking place there.
"The key question is, where do you put these terrorists? Do you bring them inside our borders? Do you release them back into the battlefield? Is it really necessary to suspend the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the avowed mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot, even though he has objected to the delay? " Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
"If there is a better solution, we're open to hearing it," he continued. "But most communities around America don't want dangerous terrorists imported into their neighborhoods, and I can't blame them. As long as it is necessary to protect our national security interests, the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should remain open."
The new administration has also taken steps to delay some scheduled hearings in cases filed by detainees seeking to challenge their detentions in federal court. On Tuesday, the administration asked and was granted a two-week delay for a case that had a hearing scheduled for today. In its motion the government wrote that it is currently "assessing how it will proceed" in that case, noting that "[t]ime is needed to make that assessment and determination."
One source familiar with discussions among transition officials said the executive order directing the detention center's closure could specify a time period of "within a year." An administration source suggested that there could be at least two other executive orders dealing with policies going forward and the implementation of interrogation techniques.