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Closing 'Gitmo' won't be easy

Where will the inmates go? Where will they be tried? Tough choices for the next president.

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The detention center at Guantánamo hangs on the US like a ball and chain. Both presidential candidates and President Bush want it closed. But that won't be easy without broad consensus on how to deal with current and future detainees.

On the tip of Cuba at a US naval base, the facility was set up in 2002 for the interrogation and detention of terrorist suspects after the 9/11 attacks. It now holds about 265 prisoners, including 14 of "high value." It may have helped prevent any other 9/11-style attacks, but Guantánamo has cost America considerable moral standing in the war on terror and sowed seeds of doubt about its justice system.

Allegations of torture and the long-term holding of suspects without charge or trial may have inspired terrorist recruits and have hindered strategic and logistical cooperation with America's allies. Gitmo must go.

But shuttering the island prison raises some tough questions. What countries will take detainees who are released? Where will the others be detained? How will they be tried? And what will happen when US forces pick up more suspects?

A recent Supreme Court decision granting the Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts is expected to end the practice of long-term detention. Presumably, this will lead to the release of at least 120 of the suspects whom the Bush administration says it can neither prosecute nor transfer to another country. Thus, the next president will face the sometimes risky balance between personal liberty and public safety, and the challenge of managing that risk.

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