What President Elect is up against… and the waiting begins

Guantanamo: What will Obama do?

-Kelly Karpenske

The American Civil Liberties Union called for Obama to announce the closure of Guantanamo on the first day of his presidency. Although, this is much easier said than done.

Spokeswoman Dana Perino said:

“We’ve tried very hard to explain to people how complicated it is. When you pick up people off the battlefield that have a terrorist background, it’s not just so easy to let them go.”

President Elect- Obama has said that the Bush administration’s system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure and that the existing American legal system is strong enough to handle the trials of terrorism suspects. But truth be told there is controversy over what to do with these prisoners. In a speech on the Senate floor in 2006, Obama claimed that the charges against many of the detainees needed to be taken seriously. “Now the majority of the folks in Guantanamo, I suspect, are there for a reason,” he said. “There are a lot of dangerous people.” But these prisoners have been denied their rights and now, as the new administration takes control, Obama must decide what precisely to do with these detainees. Some are claimed to still be innocent and others incredibly guilty.

As the world waits for examples of the ways the Obama administration is going to distance itself from the exiting Bush administration, his transition team confirmed on Monday that they will attempt follow through on Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay. Most of the issues hinge around the fates of those currently imprisoned at Guantanamo, both those who will face prosecution and those who will not.

In summation, their ideas seem to be to throw out the military tribunals authorized under the Military Commissions Act 2006. A trial procedure would be set up within the United States instead. Another problem arises for those thought to be innocent, or those ready for release.

The legal problems involved in trying terrorist suspects have not yet been resolved. Some say that the prisoners should simply be brought before normal US courts. There are problems with both. In civilian court the accused have the right to face their accusers and could release information that concerns national security. Also, evidence against them might have been obtained either through coercion, or even torture, or from foreign agencies that have used similar methods, typically not permissible in civilian court.

Some of this evidence might be admitted in a trial before a military tribunal and hearsay evidence, but neither would be acceptable under the normal rules of US courts. There is also the problem of whether the source of some evidence should be withheld from the prisoner. They are currently exploring the idea of creating a separate court that is a mixture of civilian and martial. If the hybrid system under discussion did not distance itself from the military court it would draw criticism that Guantanamo has simply been reordered to the United States.

“I think the answer is going to be, they can be as securely guarded on US soil as anywhere else. We can’t put people in a dungeon forever without processing whether they deserve to be there.”

A new system would also come under scrutiny of the US courts and a case against it would probably go right up to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. And with only a select few needing to be processed by these courts it is questionable if such a process should even be created.

What will they do with the prisoners whose release has been approved? There are further groups of detainees who are in limbo, with not enough evidence against them or confidence that they would not return to the war. Human rights groups have now proposed that European governments or the US itself should take in those prisoners whose home countries have refused to take them back. A large number of the detainees currently held cannot lawfully be sent back to their countries of origin because they would face a real risk of human rights violations such as torture or other ill-treatment. They come from countries such as China, Libya, Russia, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan.


1 Comment

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One response to “What President Elect is up against… and the waiting begins

  1. Shawn_Scanlon

    I certainly hope that we’ll see an end to this type of practice in fighting terrorism. Even if you believe that Gitmo is a good tool in fighting terrorism, it’s probably radicalized many against the U.S.

    We don’t need to create more of these people through actions that may not even be helpful in the short-term.

    And yes, most of these people are probably terrorists. If so, the government shouldn’t have any trouble persuading a civilian jury (or civilian judges, if that is the end result) of such a thing.

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