President Obama Signs Closure Of Guantanamo Bay, But How Easy Will It Be?

02/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Catherine Lyons Huffington Post

On Obama's second day in the Oval Office, he is already seeking to meet many of his campaign promises, namely the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and the banning of torture as an interrogation device.

Though the new President vowed that the detention center would be closed within the year, many are worried that the job may be easier said than done.

Al-Jazeera English reported the breaking news, announcing that President Obama signed the order to close Guantanamo and look more closely at the military tribunal system used for trying suspected terrorists under the Bush administration.

"The US president also said he was setting up a task force that would have 30 days to recommend policies on handling "terror" suspects who are detained in future.

The force would look at where those detainees should be held instead of Guantanamo."

H. Candace Gorman, author of The Guantanamo Blog, said she believed the order would immediately mean the following:

"I expect this will mean the immediate closing of camp's 5 and 6. I have reason to hope that Mr. Al-Ghizzawi has been moved out of camp 6 already."

Obama also decided to suspend the ongoing trials for suspected terrorists at Gitmo, including those allegedly involved in the September 11 attacks. Several of the prisoners on trial, however, have asked to continue their trials despite the President's order, reported The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Four of five men accused of organising the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington have opposed a move to suspend their trials as called for by the US President, Barack Obama.

The self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, asked on Wednesday for the trials to proceed, as did Ali Abd al-Aziz, Walid bin Attash and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. "I would like to continue," Mohammed said."

Earlier, as part of the first steps in the closure of the infamous detention center, a military judge suspended the trial of a Canadian at Guantanamo Bay, whose experiences are discussed in the Globe and Mail.

"Having survived a nightmare of torture and incarceration in Syria, Canadian citizen Maher Arar is now suffering an attack on his reputation, this time in testimony by an FBI agent at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Highly implausible, it nonetheless leaves a taint, so much so that Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he was 'troubled that Mr. Khadr had placed Mr. Arar at an Al-Qaeda training camp.'

Yet the allegation crumbles on examination. An FBI officer told a military-commission hearing on Monday that on Oct. 7, 2002, Omar Khadr, then a 15-year-old Canadian imprisoned at Bagram in Afghanistan, volunteered he had seen Mr. Arar at an Afghan "safe house" for terrorists and an al-Qaeda training camp the previous September or October. On Tuesday, however, the FBI agent was shown an entry in his notes that undermined his assertions from the day before. Mr. Khadr, shown a picture of Mr. Arar, had said only that he 'looked familiar.' He said he 'might have seen him' at a training camp. Nor did he say so right away; 'in time' he 'stated he felt he had seen' him (the emphasis is added) at the safe house. 'We gave him an opportunity to think about it,' said the FBI agent."

Though the first steps have been put in place to finally close the detention center that tainted the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the international and human rights communities, most agree that it will not be easy. The Guardian's Owen Bowcott discussed the responses to the order:

"Online reaction to the move was swift. John Redwood, the Conservative politician, was disappointed. 'I can forgive the president for his stumbles with the oath of office,' he commented on his blog. '[Obama] was nervous, they were not his words, and his staff had failed to place the words on his prompt screen.

'[But] I felt let down not by the words, nor by the event, but by the actions. If he is serious about closing Guantánamo, why doesn't he just announce a date or process for closure? Guantánamo became a symbol of a great democracy failing to live up to its own standards. We democrats condemn torture and believe in no detention without charge and trial. Why is he delaying even military justice for its inmates by seeking another 120-day delay in the trials about to edge forward? If he wishes to transfer them to civilian trials then just do so.'

In an exclusive BBC interview, John Bellinger, Condolezza Rice's legal adviser, warned that despite his best efforts, there were few solutions available about how to close Guantanamo, even when it became clear that its existence was doing more harm than good.

"Mr Bellinger says that as he travelled the world looking for countries to help he "secretly agreed" with many of their criticisms, but there was never any suggestion as how to close Guantanamo down.

'Not one' offered a solution, he adds, clearly frustrated.

He hopes that the new administration will have better luck. But he still thinks that it 'will have a devil of a time' trying to close the camp."

In an article in the Boston Review, David Cole asks the obvious questions now facing the Obama administration: What will they do with the remaining detainees?

"But closing Guantánamo will raise almost as many problems as it solves. Where, for example, will the new administration put the 250 or so men still detained there? No American city is eager to have accused al Qaeda terrorists in its backyard. And outsourcing the problem is not an option. Most of the detainees' native countries will not take them back; cannot assure us that the men won't return to battle; or may torture the detainees, thereby precluding us from repatriating them.

The difficult question of relocation, however, pales in comparison to the long-term problem of what to do with the remaining detainees. The Bush administration claims that about eighty could be criminally tried. If we cannot try the remaining 170, must we release them?"