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The Devil in the Details on Closing Guantanamo

Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
May 21, 2009

Amid mounting political opposition to President Obama’s approach to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, obstacles to closing the camp by the end of January 2010 are increasing, says CFR International Affairs Fellow Marisa L. Porges, a former policy adviser in the Department of Defense’s Office of Detainee Affairs. But beyond timing, Porges says President Obama’s speech at the National Archives on May 21 left a host of unanswered questions.

For one, many observers had been hoping “for an entirely new approach to the detention problem,” says Porges, but Obama appears to be pursuing a path that will continue Bush administration policies, albeit “with minor tweaks.” For instance, how questions of long-term detention are answered, or whether military commissions should fit into the overall legal framework, are similar to Bush administration strategies. Yet Obama is making some clear breaks from the past, Porges says, including the apparent willingness to bring detainees to detention facilities on U.S. soil and the possibility of using the federal criminal system for prosecution. And Porges notes that a number of policy reviews are ongoing and says she expects more specifics to surface in due course.

The key issue going forward, she says, will be the controversial question of transferring some detainees to facilities on U.S. soil. Members of Congress have already sounded the alarm on that front--members of his own party spurned the president this week by refusing to release money out of concern for such a scenario--and Porges says resolving that issue could be the thorniest. “That is going to be the benchmark on which this all turns,” she says.



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