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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
WH: Gitmo still closing in January
The White House says President Barack Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in January is still in place, even though two task forces he set up to review detention and interrogation policies will miss deadlines Tuesday to make recommendations.
On his second day in office, Obama issued executive orders setting six-month deadlines for one task force on current and future detainees, and for another panel to look at how prisoners captured in the future should be interrogated.
However, major issues related to the new policies remain unresolved, and Congress has complicated the effort with legislation last month that restricts Obama’s ability to ship detainees out of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, officials said Monday.
During a background briefing for reporters by senior administration officials, one said there was “good reason” to extend the detention review by six months and the interrogation review by two months.
“The issues are complex,” the official said. “They have a long history both in terms of contentious debate within the country and the Congress and elsewhere. They have been the subject of a lot of litigation.”
Asked if they still plan to close Guantanamo by January, the official said, “That is our goal. That is what we’re working towards.”
“I think we’re all comfortable with where we are in the process,” another official said. “These are hard, complicated and consequential decisions. I mean let’s not kid ourselves. What we’re trying to do is make sure we make the right decisions.”
Outside analysts said the delay in the task force reports signaled that Obama will not meet his self-imposed deadline to close the Guantanamo prison by January.
“At this point, I think it’s virtually impossible that they make that—a delay is almost inevitable,” said Matthew Waxman, a Columbia Law School professor who handled detainee issues at the Pentagon and the State Department under President George W. Bush. “I just don’t see them moving -- the Guantanamo prisoners -- into the U.S. until they have got their policy and legal strategy in place for what to do long-term, and I don’t see that getting resolved anytime soon.”
Waxman also said he was not surprised that the task force reports weren’t ready. “The issue is just extremely complicated,” he said. “The legal, political and operational terrain keeps shifting … one of the challenges here is one cannot ever get entirely ahead of those changes.”
The senior officials did not say explicitly what complications led to the need for extensions. However, they hinted that one factor was Congress’s move to restrict Obama’s ability to bring Guantanamo prisoners to the United States.
“As you’ve seen, this has been an issue that’s been a lot of concern in Congress. There’s been a lot of interest in it,” one official said.
The rider to a supplemental appropriations bill signed by Obama and in effect through September 30 bars release of Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the U.S. The legislation also requires advance reports before they are transferred abroad or brought to the U.S. for trial or further imprisonment.
The Obama administration officials repeatedly sought to shift blame onto the Bush administration for postponing key decisions about Guantanamo and for leaving the records about individual detainees in shambles.
“These are issues, frankly, that could have been and should have been wrestled with over the course of the last seven years. Regrettably, frankly, they weren’t,” one senior Obama official said. “Comprehensively and robustly, in our view, this administration is doing that.”