Guantanamo Conundrum

The Guantanamo prison is a problem with no solution. On the one hand, Congress has stripped all funds to relocate detainees to U.S. prisons. On the other, diplomatic efforts to relocate them to other countries has been an abysmal failure. Despite the administration's best efforts to find an answer to an increasingly frustrating situation, there doesn't appear to be one.

Therefore, we can expect a new executive order allowing indefinite detention of prisoners with periodic reviews. A solution that's no solution at all for a problem with no clear answer.


The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

Nearly two years after Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president's embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.

After taking office, the Obama administration reviewed the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay and chose 48 prisoners for indefinite detention. Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that number will likely increase in coming months as some detainees are moved from a transfer category to a continued detention category.

The White House confirmed that an order is being drafted:

A White House official, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity, later confirmed that the draft order has not yet been given to the president. The official had few details but said the order “would set up periodic review of the detention status of those detainees who cannot be tried,” in either military commissions or federal courts.

In 2008, Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court. The executive order aims to create an executive branch review which would occur separately from the court review and would weigh the necessity of the detention, rather than its lawfulness, officials said.

"Perhaps the dangerousness of the detainee's country of origin could change, or the group that the detainee is affiliated with could cease to exist," one official explained.

Any way you cut it, it's bad, and likely to get worse. This is one of those situations where there's no clear pathway to an end that will satisfy the Constitution and people. On the one hand, it's crazy to think that there are no bad guys in the world. On the other, there's no guarantee these people held at Guantanamo are the bad guys, despite internal reviews and the like.

What do you think should be done about them?


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