Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Closing Gitmo

The AP and other news outlets are reporting that within 24 hours of taking the oath of office, Barack Obama will issue an executive order to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

That executive order is expected during Obama’s first week on the job — and possibly on his first day, according to two transition team advisers. Both spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Obama’s order will direct his administration to figure out what to do with the estimated 250 al-Qaida and Taliban suspects and potential witnesses who are being held at Guantanamo.

It’s still unlikely the prison would be closed any time soon. Obama last weekend said it would be “a challenge” to close it even within the first 100 days of his administration.

Obviously there’s a difference between issuing the order and actually closing the place down, and the question remains about what to do with the people being held there. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t speak to the finer points of the legal system, but even the average layman can figure out that the cobbled-together tribunals that the Pentagon and the White House put together out of desperation and vengeance will not stand the test of time and the long-term legal process. In fact, the Bush administration has lost every appeal to the Supreme Court brought by defense attorneys, most of them appointed by the Pentagon. So the biggest challenge facing the Obama administration is finding a way to administer justice to these defendants, many of whom have been held for seven years without being charged or even talking to a lawyer.

Whatever evidence there is of their crimes has been tainted by the delay or possibly obtained under torture, which basically renders it useless. So if they are going to be put on trial, the Obama administration is going to have to come up with a new and fair way of putting these men on trial, or let them go. Neither choice is easy, but how President Obama deals with it will tell us a lot about him and the future of our justice system under his watch.