Closing Guantanamo

November 14, 2008

In an interview with CBS News, Benjamin Wittes discusses three possible ways the Obama administration could close the prison at Guantanamo Bay

Question: So if you close Guantanamo, what are the options for the next administration?

Benjamin Wittes:  Well there’s three, well I think broadly speaking there’s three strategies that can be used for closing Guantanamo. One is, you shut down Guantanamo and you adopt essentially the uniform position of the Human Rights Committee which is everybody that’s there should be either charged with a federal crime, either in the military court-martial or in the U.S. federal court. Everyone should be charged or released. Anybody who can’t bring a criminal charge against you should be set free. And that’s one possibility. And I think it’s an interesting question whether the Obama people once they really look at these files would consider that a viable option. But they are certainly a lot of people who have been associated with the campaign, and who believe that’s the way to go.

The second possibility is to close Guantanamo and not change the policy really at all. You can move the detainees that are currently held in Guantanamo to a facility in the United States. You still hold them in the same status here, which is that of an enemy combatant that you are holding in Guantanamo. It is really changing the venue of the policy but not changing the policy at all.

And the third possibility is to create some new way to hold them, something like a national security court I was getting at. You go to Congress that they are there’s a group of people that we can’t charge, but that we don’t want to set free. Help us out and pass a piece of legislation that defines the certain circumstances under which we can hold them.

There’s a lot of exuberance right now among people thinking that well Obama won, therefore the world is going to change. He’s going to come into office January 20th, snap his finger and Guantanamo is going to go away. And I think that’s what Alan Greenspan might have called an irrational exuberance on the part of some people. I think there is going to be there’s going to be a sobering moment where they get into office and they actually look at these files. Bob Gates came into office in defense of wanting to close Guantanamo and Guantanamo is still there. Condoleezza Rice went into office at the State Department saying publicly that she wanted to close Guantanamo and Guantanamo is still there. And if it were easy, it would have happened already. And now, I’m not saying that it’s impossible and they can’t do it, I believe they can do it. I don’t believe that it’s a quick snap of the fingers kind of process and I think there are going to be a series of cases about which there are some very, very difficult decisions to be made.

View the full interview »