Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama's Moves on Guantanamo

The Obama administration made two significant moves in the last few days that signal its seriousness about closing Guantanamo and finding alternative ways--other than military tribunals--to deal with remaining detainees.  The moves come less than a month after President Obama announced somewhat more detailed plans for dealing with detainees.  I posted on the speech here and here.

In the first move, the administration negotiated an agreement with the Pacific island nation of Palau to take the Chinese Muslims, the Uighurs, detained at Guantanamo Bay.  The U.S. pledged $200 million in development aid to Palau, although the administration denied that the funds represent a quid pro quo.  The NYT reports here.

This move is a closing chapter in the saga of the Uighurs, who were ordered released into the U.S. last fall by a federal judge after concluding that they were not "enemy combatants."  The D.C. Circuit overturned the order, ruling that federal courts lack authority to order the detainees' release into the U.S.  The rulings left the Uighurs in limbo: The U.S. lacked authority to continue to detain them, but the administration refused to release them into the U.S. (and the federal courts couldn't order this), and no other country would take them (except for China, where the government believed they would be persecuted or executed).  Even if Palau doesn't take all 17 Uighurs, its acceptance of some will make it easier for the administration to find a home for others.

In the second move, the administration transferred Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to the Southern District of New York for criminal trial.  Ghailani pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired in the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  The NYT reports here.

The moves are a significant signal of the administration's seriousness to close Guantanamo and find alternative ways to deal with detainees, because both come with potential political costs.  The Uighurs, found to be non-combatants in every possible way and by every possible tribunal and official, have somehow been framed as ultra-dangerous threats to the U.S. and its citizens by some.  And detainees generally have been considered too dangerous for the Article III courts by many. The administration's willingness to stand up to these concerns and potential political costs that come with them suggest that it's serious about its Guantanamo efforts.


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