In a move already drawing fire from liberal activists, aides to President Obama acknowledged the administration will miss its own Tuesday deadline to submit a report detailing its policy on detaining terror suspects.
The report is a key part of laying out the White House’s plan for shutting down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. In a briefing for reporters, four senior administration officials confirmed the task force dealing with detention policy has been granted a six-month extension to flesh out its plans. A separate task force dealing with interrogation policy has been given a two-month extension to submit its own report to the president. The reports had been mandated to be completed this week by executive orders the president signed during his first week in office. Meanwhile, the task force did issue a preliminary report late Monday regarding the process of determining whether suspected terrorists will be prosecuted in federal courts or military commissions. However, the memo gave few details, instead reiterating the administration’s intent to reform the military commissions and affording basic protections for detainees. Despite the delays, the four senior officials insisted the Obama administration is making strong progress in resolving the thorny legal issues surrounding the 240 terror suspects that were detained at Guantanamo as of January of this year, and is still on track to shut the prison down next January as spelled out by executive order. “I think we’re all comfortable with where we are in the process,” one senior administration official said of shutting the controversial prison.
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A second senior administration official said it is the administration’s “goal” to still shut the prison. When pressed by reporters on whether this was a softening of the promise to actually close the prison down, this official insisted there has been no change and the administration is still planning to comply with the executive order. This second official downplayed the delays in finishing the reports. “We wanted to get this right,” said the official. “We wanted to do this carefully.” But officials at the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the delay in the release of the report on detainee policy in particular, noting Obama officials have also left the door open to holding some Guantanamo detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. “The Obama administration must not slip into the same legal swamp that engulfed the Bush administration with its failed Guantanamo policies,” said Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director. “Any effort to revamp the failed Guantanamo military commissions or enact a law to give any president the power to hold individuals indefinitely and without charge or trial is sure to be challenged in court and it will take years before justice is served.” Romero added, “The only way to make good on President Obama’s promise to shut down Guantanamo and end the military commissions is to charge and try the detainees in established federal criminal courts. Any effort to do otherwise will doom the Obama administration to lengthy litigation. A promise deferred could soon become a promise broken.” But a third senior administration official insisted the White House is making good progress in dealing with all the terror suspects being held at Guantanamo. This third official told reporters the administration is “over halfway through reviewing the detainees at Guantanamo” by either transferring them to other countries or moving toward putting them on trial for prosecution. This third official said that “substantially more than 50” of the detainees are prepared for transfer, while a “significant number” are being prepared for prosecution. A fourth senior administration official said the White House is making “great progress” in getting European countries like Italy to publicly agree to take on some detainees. The official said other European countries have privately agreed to take detainees, but will not publicly discuss it yet. “In the weeks and months ahead we will build on that strong foundation,” said the official. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the administration for announcing its intent to shutter the Guantanamo prison “before it actually had a plan.” “Bipartisan majorities of both houses and the American people oppose closing Guantanamo without a plan, and several important questions remain unanswered,” he said.