By Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008
The Pentagon is drawing up plans to shut the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be prepared for any order from President-elect Barack Obama, who has promised to close the controversial facility after he assumes office Jan. 20, a defense official said yesterday.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates instructed his staff to have a blueprint in place by the time of the inauguration in case Obama decides the closure of the facility is one of his "first orders of business," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Gates "has asked his team for a proposal on how to shut it down -- what would be required specifically to close it and move the detainees from that facility while at the same time, of course, ensuring that we protect the American people from some dangerous characters," Morrell said at a news briefing.
Any plan will probably address whether to also abolish the military commission system and, if so, what kind of legal framework can be substituted to put detainees on trial. The U.S. government will have to negotiate homes in third countries for as many as 60 detainees who have been cleared for release but cannot be returned to countries such as Uzbekistan and Libya because of fears they will be tortured. And the next administration will have to find or build appropriate detention facilities in the United States, as well as negotiate with local and state authorities who may not want terrorist suspects housed in prisons in their areas.
Gates has also said recently that legislation may be required to prevent detainees from seeking asylum in the United States.
These questions have almost certainly been considered before by the Pentagon. Charles D. "Cully" Stimson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said yesterday that he drew up contingency plans in 2006 for how to close the military prison. The contents of his report remain classified, he said.
Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, welcomed Morrell's announcement as an important signal of Obama's intention to follow through on statements made during the campaign. "This is an important first step toward turning the page on eight years of shameful policies that allowed torture and violations of domestic and international law," he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the military commission system continues: Charges against two more detainees were referred to the military courts at Guantanamo Bay this week by a Pentagon official.