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Mike Levine

Washington, DC

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Meaning Of Gitmo “Closure” Open to Debate?

July 20, 2009 - 9:19 PM | by: Mike Levine

Only days after taking office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order saying that, “The detention facilities at Guantánamo [Bay] … shall be closed” no later than Jan. 22, 2010, insisting “prompt and appropriate disposition” of the Guantánamo Bay detainees “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.” Now at the half-way point to their deadline, administration officials said they’re making considerable progress toward “closure” of the facilities –- but they couldn’t pinpoint what will constitute “closure.”

A task force of about 65 officials from the Justice Department, FBI, Defense Department, CIA and State Department has been reviewing the cases of nearly 240 detainees currently at Guantanamo Bay. According to senior administration officials, that task force is “over half-way through reviewing” the detainees’ cases. “A significant number” of detainees will be prosecuted –- either in federal civilian courts or by “reformed military commissions” – and “substantially more than 50” detainees will be transferred to other countries, the officials said on Monday. 

But before any more detainees can be transferred, the U.S. government has to persuade other countries to take them. “We’re making some good progress with some European countries … and famously with [the island nation of] Palau,” one official said. The officials wouldn’t specify which European countries they are negotiating with, saying some countries wanted to remain anonymous for now.

Asked whether the administration will be able to close the facilities at Guantanamo Bay by the deadline in six months, one official would only say, “That is our goal.” Another official jumped in later, saying, “Are we on schedule to meet the requirements of the executive order? The answer is yes.”

But at exactly what point will the administration declare the facilities closed, and the requirements met? Two senior administration officials, asked that question separately on Monday, wouldn’t answer. The first official said, “You’ll see,” and told Fox News to ask someone else. So Fox News asked someone else. Here’s the exchange with the second senior administration official:

 

Q: “What does closing Guantanamo mean? At what point do you declare Guantanamo is closed?”
 
A: (Long pause) “Ummmm — are you like [philosopher Michel] Foucault or what?” (Laughter)

Q: “If there are 50 military commission trials, can you hold them at Guantanamo because they’re pending trial as opposed to being detained in civil [prisons]?”

A: “Here’s what we’re not going to do, is begin to answer questions that start with ‘if’. That’s going to be a fact-driven operation. We’re taking the facts, we’re going through, and we’re making a determination [based on that].” 

Q: “Will there physically be any detainees at Guantanamo in February 2010?”

A: (Pause) “Dah — the answer to … your question [and] to this question is ‘are we on track to meet the deadline’ –”
 
Q: “That’s not my question. I want to know what the ‘goal’ is. You say that’s the goal [to close Guantanamo]… but what does it mean that Guantanamo is closed? Does that mean that all the files are out? … One of the issues is that they [officials at Guantanamo] are worried about having to go through the files after the detainees leave. Is it closed after the files have gone through and [been] disseminated? Or is it just getting the detainees out?”

A: “It strikes me as an existential question. I deal with those only on Sunday mornings.” (Laughter)
 
Q: “Is it just transferring detainees out to somewhere else? To courts? When there are no detainees at Guantanamo anymore, is that the moment when it’s closed?”

A: (Long pause) “I’m having a hard time getting my head around the premise of the question.”

 

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