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Closing Guantánamo Is Way Harder Than You Think

Author: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
January 21, 2009
Foreign Policy


Today, U.S. President Barack Obama suspended military commissions at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and it is widely expected that later this week he will order its closure. That's the right thing to do. So is leaving options open to get it done, as Obama has. He'll need that flexibility. Proclaiming an intention to close Guantánamo is the easy part; actually doing it is another thing. Even harder will be crafting a new detention policy and legal regime for a post-Guantánamo world. And Obama has offered few details of how he will do so.

A few major elements of the new administration's Guantánamo closure plan are already clear. First, as to those detainees who are not considered the most dangerous, it will step up efforts to transfer them to their home countries (or third countries) that can be trusted to deal with any continuing security threat and not mistreat them. The Bush administration has already sent home two thirds of the roughly 800 total Guantánamo detainees this way, and the new administration hopes its diplomatic goodwill will energize this process.

Second, as to those detainees it seeks to keep locked up, the new administration will pore over the evidence to see if criminal prosecutions can be brought effectively in federal court and without risking disclosure of critical intelligence sources and methods.

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