New Marching Orders

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, December 19, 2008; 12:13 PM

The military is gearing up to carry out the orders of the new commander in chief. And one of the first orders may be one of the most meaningful: To shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post: "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. . . .

"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. . . .

"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."

David Morgan writes for Reuters: "'If this is one of the president-elect's first orders of business, the secretary wants to be prepared to help him as soon as possible,' Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters. . . .

"Defense officials said the task of closing Guantanamo is likely to be a lengthy, complex process that would involve all three branches of the government.

"'You look at this sort of thing early because that's when you have momentum for bringing about change. With a new administration coming in, you've got people who are willing to do what's necessary,' said one defense official."

From the transcript of Morrell's briefing yesterday: "I think fundamentally the motivation for the secretary in this -- in this respect is not just the fact that he believes that closure is the right thing, but that the president-elect has made it perfectly clear throughout the course of the campaign that this -- that he wishes to address this issue early on in his administration. And so the secretary wants to be prepared to assist him in trying to figure out a solution to this thorny problem."

Amanda Terkel of caught Gates talking to PBS's Charlie Rose Wednesday night. Asked about closing Guantanamo, Gates replied: "Well, I think that there are some problems that need to be dealt with, probably in statute, to be able to close it. I think that we can provide alternatives to it. . . .

"I think these problems are solvable. And my guess is --

Rose: "So on balance, you would like to see it -- "

Gates: "I would like to see it closed. And I think it will be a high priority for the new administration."

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