Obama reiterated his pledge to close down the facility, and in the same stroke dismissed fears about relocating detainees to American soil. He cited the ability of the federal prison system to safely hold these prisoners until a final resolution of their cases can be reached, adding that no one has ever escaped from a federal supermax prison, and that they already house hundreds of dangerous terrorists.
The president broke detainees down into five categories and explained how each will be handled:
- Detainees found to have committed criminal acts will be tried in federal courts.
- Detainees found to have violated the rules of war will be tried by military commissions, a position the White House articulated earlier this week. However, Obama pledged that he will stop some of the legal practices of the previous administration, including allowing in heresay evidence and evidence gathered as the result of torture.
- Detainees who have been ordered released by US courts will be released forthwith, though not into the United States, as some had inexplicably feared.
- Detainees who can be transferred safely to another country for detention, of which there are roughly 50.
- Detainees who cannot be prosecuted but can also not be released because they "pose a clear danger to the American people."
Obama discussed this last category at length, though he did not say specificially how they will be handled. He did state that, "We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must have fair procedures, so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified."
Obama stated that as many as 250 detainees could be safely moved to the United States, which suggests that the administration will not be seeking to pare down the numbers of detainees through swift prosecutions and relocations within the next year, which we had earlier said was a possibility. While the 50 or so who are eligible for relocation to another country will likely be transferred soon, as many as 100 could be facing long-term detention in the US without being charged, which is the number that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cited last month.
Here is the entirety of President Obama's speech:
I support the president for saying unequivocally that the camp at Guantanamo must be closed, and closed soon, and that there is no reasonable argument against relocating them to prisons on US soil. It still remains to be seen if the system of military tribunals will be workable and fair, even under the new parameters. And the category of detainees that will not be released or charged poses a conundrum without any easy resolution, and while the president's candor was refreshing, the problem remains no less vexing. It appears that we will still have at least a few dozen detainees who are denied the right of habeas corpus for an unforeseen period in the future; at least we can take some comfort in the fact that they will no longer be imprisoned in a legal black hole.
Also on Thursday former Vice President Dicky Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (where he is now a trustee), decided to take the opportunity to continue his campaign of fear-mongering and justify and rationalize his indefensible record of torture, Constitutional violations, and obfuscation.