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Seven Questions: How to Close Gitmo

Author: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy
November 18, 2008
Foreign Policy


As soon as Barack Obama was elected president two weeks ago, the calls starting piling in: Close the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. Human rights organizations, pundits, U.S. allies, and much of Congress support the idea, which now looks certain to top the incoming administration's agenda. "I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo, and I will follow through on that," Obama told Steve Kroft Nov. 16 on 60 Minutes. "I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture. And I'm gonna make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."


But shutting down Guantánamo will be no easy task. Of the prison's 255 remaining detainees, 23 are still facing various charges. Relocating any or all of the prisoners to U.S. soil could prove contentious and legally complicated. To sort out the issues, Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson spoke with Matthew Waxman, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. Waxman, the first ever to hold the position, was appointed after the Abu Ghraib incident in 2004 to advise then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Just over a year later, Waxman left for the State Department, having fought unsuccessfully to extend the protections of the Geneva Conventions to every terrorism detainee.


Foreign Policy: Many in the United States and in the world are hoping that President-elect Barack Obama will close the Guantánamo Bay prison as one of his first moves in office-but it looks like this won't be so easy. What are some of the legal hang-ups that could postpone closure?


Matthew Waxman: President Obama may announce quickly his intention to close Guantánamo Bay, but I wouldn't expect it to close overnight.

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