Our colleague Michael Isikoff has a big scoop today: A task force advising President Obama on closing Guantanamo Bay has delayed its first big report amid continued divisions over what to do with detainees. And we’re not simply talking days here. The report, which would detail a long-term strategy on how to deal with prisoners, has been put off for a “few months,” a senior administration official tells Isikoff. That raises questions about whether Obama will be able to meet his January deadline of closing Gitmo. A key area of disagreement: Whether the U.S. should hold some prisoners under “indefinite detention.” As you’ll recall, Obama himself suggested he has serious reservations about the policy in a recent interview with AP. But some administration officials are insisting Obama has no choice. Here's Isikoff:
Three administration officials familiar with the process said the detention task force, which is jointly run by aides to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, did agree that the Obama administration should continue to claim the right to hold some Guantanamo inmates indefinitely as "combatants" under the "laws of war," without charging them either in criminal courts or in military commissions. That proposal is sure to prove controversial among human rights groups, which say any such "indefinite detention" violates civil liberties and is virtually indistinguishable from legal claims made by President Bush.
But the officials say that, as much as the concept of indefinite detention is distasteful to the president and his legal advisors, there is simply no alternative for dealing with potentially dozens of detainees whom the administration doesn't want to release because they are thought to be too dangerous, but can't bring to trial for lack of evidence. But one of the officials insisted the Obama task force will not ultimately endorse the sweeping claims of executive authority made by the Bush administration. The legal basis for detention will rely largely on the narrower 2001 congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of 9/11.
The proposal will also call for periodic review of the status of the detainees by a military panel—with opportunities for detainees to argue that they are no longer dangerous. Yet the task force has not been able to reach a consensus on key issues—among them whether indefinite detention will only apply to detainees currently at Guantanamo or whether new prisoners captured in counter-terrorism operations around the world can be similarly held without trial. Even more troublesome is where to imprison future detainees. Administration officials acknowledge they will almost certainly have to be brought to a facility within the United States—most likely a military prison. But recent protests by members of congress about transferring some current Gitmo detainees to the United States—and amendments already passed by Congress requiring notification of any such moves—has made that option far more difficult than it was only a few months ago.
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