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Guantánamo: Is Obama's vow to close detention camp facing a reality check?

Obama insists that the US terror detention camp at Guantánamo can close. But new obstacles are emerging in a defense bill passed by Congress and his own plan to detain suspects indefinitely.

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US military guards walk within Camp Delta military-run prison, at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba, on June 27, 2006.

Brennan Linsley/AP/File

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President Obama’s pledge to close the US terror detention camp at Guantánamo is now facing its most significant obstacle. On Wednesday, Congress gave final approval to a defense authorization bill that includes a provision blocking transfer of any Guantánamo detainees to the US – even to face a criminal trial.

At the same time, the Obama administration is working on an executive order authorizing the indefinite detention of certain terrorism suspects the administration deems too difficult to put on trial but too dangerous to release.

The combination of executive and legislative action suggests that Guantánamo may remain an important fixture in American antiterrorism efforts – despite assertions by Mr. Obama and others that Guantánamo has become an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

IN PICTURES: Life at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

“My No. 1 priority is keeping the American people safe,” Obama said during a year-end press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

He suggested that he has not given up on his plan to close the detention facility at the US Naval base in Cuba. “I think we can do just as good a job housing them somewhere else,” he said.

The president said closing the prison camp would undercut the negative symbolism of Guantánamo with a more positive message that the US is “living up to our values and our ideals and our principles.”

In the meantime, the administration’s plan to formalize an indefinite detention regime for certain detainees at Guantánamo is drawing criticism from human rights and civil libertarian groups.

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