Guantanamo Bay Detention Center is likely to be in the news a great deal in coming months, if President-elect Obama's consistent promises to close it are carried out. Over a year before the election, Obama promised listeners that if he were elected, ""we're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus. … We're going to lead by example — by not just word but by deed. That's our vision for the future."
Now that the future is the present, calls from both the United States and around the world are calling for a quick disposition. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen.
There are currently about 255 to 270 detainees at Guantanamo, according to different estimates provided by the White House and the Pentagon. Some have never been charged with a crime; the Pentagon has plans currently to try about 80 of those in detention. As of November, there have been two trials concluding in guilty pleas (and one guilty plea entered without trial). Given the widespread disapproval for the special tribunal system established to try 'enemy combatants,' proceeding with these 80 is likely to be extremely slow going.
Ali Hamza Ahmad al-Bahlul, who was convicted on November 3 on the charges related to his presumed role as Osama bin Laden's propaganda chief, provided no defense as a way to protest the legitimacy of the military commissions.
Substantial criticism of the commissions has come from inside as well including, most recently, from Lt Col Darrel Vandeveld, a prosecutor who has said the system is unfair and in disarray.
Where detainees will go is an issue. Returning detainees deemed innocent to their home countries is not a simple matter. Some detainees will not want to return to their own countries, fearing torture. Some countries do not want those who have been released returned to them, according to the Heritage Foundation, which reminds that some have advanced weapons training.
Release into the United States is another option, but not one that many want to take. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who is in favor of the closure) has cautioned that legislation must ensure that detainees not be permitted to emigrate to the United States. A judge recently ordered that a fraction of 60 detainees whose release the United States is trying to negotiate, be allowed nto the United States. The detainees, Ughyur Chinese Muslims who are innocent, were turned back by an appeal.
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