President-elect Barack Obama made clear this week that he intends to keep his campaign pledge to close the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I don't want to be ambiguous about this: We are going to close Guantanamo, and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution," he said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "That is not only the right thing to do, but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy, because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."
Obama is expected to issue an executive order, possibly on his first full day in office, to close the prison that houses suspected terrorists picked up mostly on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Closing Guantanamo is not as easy as freeing the prisoners and turning out the lights, however.
What Do We Do With The Detainees?
Scott Silliman, professor of law at Duke University and executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, says the major problem is what the U.S. will do with the detainees who are now at Guantanamo.
"You can put them in the United States. You can hopefully move them to other countries," he tells NPR's Michele Norris. "But, so far, neither one of those options has really worked."
NPR's Tom Gjelten has reported that Obama is ruling out a detention facility in the United States. Silliman says the obvious choice is to try to move them back to their countries of citizenship.
"Part of the problem is that the Bush administration lacks credibility in the international community, and it's hopeful that ... [Secretary of State-designate Hillary] Clinton will be able to open up more diplomatic overtures and have more success," Silliman says. "That is the optimum solution to closing Guantanamo Bay."
A Long Process
The incoming Obama administration plans to direct a team to examine each case to determine which of the detainees can be released and which ones must be held at another location. Silliman says that process will take a long time.
"The process of closing it will probably take eight to 10 months at the earliest," he says. "You have got to go case by case."
Silliman says an evaluation must be made whether a particular detainee is subject to criminal charges. If such a determination is made, he says, they must be prosecuted in some form. Then there are those detainees for whom there is no evidence of a crime, but who still may be dangerous. It must be determined whether these detainees should be released or continue to be held, he says.
Over the past four years, Silliman notes, the courts have dealt the Bush administration several defeats on the issue of detainees. The Supreme Court told the administration that the detainees have legal rights that can be heard in U.S. federal courts.
"When you move them to some other country, then that issue goes away," Silliman says. "But if you put them anywhere else ... the same issue of their legal rights stays alive and well. And it's a difficult [issue] for the new administration to deal with."