Obama’s Gitmo plan faces too may questions

Less than six months before his self-imposed deadline to shut down Guantanamo, US President Barack Obama faces key fights over where to move detainees and how to prosecute them.

His administration has only had limited success in emptying the detention center of those considered its most low-risk inmates, sending them home or to third countries willing to provide them with asylum.

Portugal this week joined Bermuda, France, Ireland, and even the Pacific archipelago of Palau in agreeing to accept detainees from the prison, located on a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama is still wrestling with what to do with some 229 detainees who remain, among them the highest-profile arrests in his predecessor George W. Bush’s "war on terror" including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Obama made shutting the camp — a symbol for many of all that was wrong with Bush’s "war on terror" — by the end of his first year in office on January 2010 a major campaign pledge.

But his decision earlier this year to prosecute some detainees in reformed versions of the Bush-era military commissions and try others in federal courts has met with growing opposition.

Human rights groups say commissions commute detainees’ legal rights and remain unconvinced by the Obama administration’s promise to refer as many cases as possible to civilian courts.

A group of senators, including Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Independent Joe Lieberman and Democrat Jim Webb, released a letter on Thursday calling on the administration to avoid using federal civilian courts at all.

"Given the robust procedural and substantive rights now provided by this revised system of military commissions and the sensitive nature of much of the evidence that would be brought forth, we are disturbed that your administration has expressed a clear preference for… federal district courts," they wrote.

"We strongly believe that it would be unwise to try alleged war criminals in civilian communities with civilian juries, as do a significant majority of our colleagues."

The administration has promised to reform the much-criticized military commission system, which was overhauled in 2006 after a Supreme Court ruling.

The reshaped tribunals, overseen by a military judge and jury, will allow detainees to pick their own lawyers, and will have tougher rules on the use of hearsay — evidence from a witness who did not learn it firsthand.

The administration has also pledged to ban the use of evidence obtained though "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment."

The proposed reforms do not go far enough for some, with Sarah Mendelsohn of the Center for Strategic and International Studies pointing out that "they are not going to put a US citizen through the military commissions."

Mendelsohn and others note that the military commissions at Guantanamo have prosecuted fewer than five detainees in the same time that US federal courts have convicted over 100 terror suspects.

"This conversation is constantly missing the empirical fact that military commissions have not done a good job at handling terrorist cases," Mendelsohn told AFP.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin points to the record of civilian courts in handling terror cases.

"From 9/11 to the end of 2007, 145 terrorists have been convicted and sentenced for their crimes," he said. "In just the last five months, since January 1, 2009, more than 30 terrorists have been successfully prosecuted."

Defense lawyers for some of the detainees also question the jurisdiction of the military tribunals, which have not been used in the United States since World War Two, and are traditionally a forum to prosecute war crimes.

"We are not dealing with law of war offenses," said Major David Frakt, a military defense lawyer for Afghan detainee Mohamed Jawad, who has been ordered released from Guantanamo by a federal court.

Frakt argues that many of the allegations against detainees stem from acts that occurred before 9/11, when the United States was not at war.

Obama also faces opposition to the transfer of detainees into the United States, with two Kansas senators this week threatening to hold up votes on administration nominees after reports of possible transfers to a Kansas military prison.

"Enemy combatants should under no circumstances be housed at Fort Leavenworth," Republican Kansas Senator Sam Brownback said in a statement.

"This is a bad idea chasing after another bad idea on a hurry up timeline."


  1. barak

    This is Nuts! Take the bastards out and try them. What have we been dicking around for during the past years? Get them out of Cuba and where they belong–at the end of a rope or home with their families. Put them on a plane with only 1/8 a tank of fuel and send them Trans-Pacific enroute to Pakistan. Enough with these asses.
    Our country is in the shitter and all I read is crap about the “High” Government Officials wanting to have their fat asses ferried around on private aircraft. Let the jerks fly economy on the regular scheduled airlines. They are OUR employees, and since when does the hired help get to travel above first class while the rest of us have to stand in a block-long line waiting to go thru security? When will they get the message that we don’t want emperors or imperial senators and representatives doing our governing?
    We need to clean house and senate and judiciary. Stop these life terms for the Supreme Court and for the congressional seats because the cost of running as a candidate is only for the very rich. Get some Mr Smiths in there. Let’s get back to honest government by honest people. Guys like Waxman who care, and who work hard to see that things are done properly–those are the kind of people we need.
    Nancy P and Harry R are a travesty. Both should be ridden out of DC on a rail after being tarred and pinfeathered.
    We have to limit term lengths. It is the only solution. NOBODY should be allowed to serve in elected or appointed office for more than one three year term. Nobody!
    Get these characters onto the National Social Security System. They have had it soft for the whole time they were in office, there is NO reason to gift them with a retirement package that makes paupers out of the citizens.
    They need to care about We The People more than They Themselves. Or if not, they need to be gotten out of office and out of DC. Forever!

  2. woody188

    Obama is still wrestling with what to do with some 229 detainees who remain, among them the highest-profile arrests in his predecessor George W. Bush’s “war on terror” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    Wonder how many of these are innocent but deemed too dangerous to prosecute or release. Trying to figure out just what makes someone too dangerous to prosecute. Because that seems like those doing the prosecuting are afraid of what might be mentioned on record in court. Although they could have the court room closed for those sessions. If it is a safety issue they could use video conferencing. So it just doesn’t make any sense. Never mind it’s entirely illegal under our system of justice to detain people indefinitely without charges or trial.

    What do you think?

    R U Main Core?

  3. bryan mcclellan

    While it would do wonders for national morale and set our course back to that of standing apart from the tinpot dictators of the world this administration will not drop the time honored tradition of covering for the previous assholes no matter the crime.

    Hanging over the heads of nearly every politician is the specter/sphincter of enabling the dick and george debacle, and the dirt is backed up compliments of illegal wiretapping and spook surveillance,or simply the rumor of such intelligence gathering. It will keep them in line and if not so, sooner or later they know they will have to take a small plane ride to meet their maker should they not toe the line.

    I don’t think the case against most of these people in Cuba can be made and that is the reason for the delay.Our government is in the saving face business above and beyond the laws that us common folk are judged by.

    No one wants to be the guy to tear down the bush facade and it’s simply out of fear of retribution so the fate of the prisoners is up in the air indefinitely.