Obama Oversimplifies Terror Cases in Renewed Call to Close Gitmo

Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains politically charged at home and abroad.


Part of the Guantanamo detention facility on the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2008.

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    A Pentagon spokesman says the military does not believe the Gitmo detention facility necessarily protects America.

    "None of us believe that keeping Guantanamo open is in America's security interests. It deteriorates our standing globally, it is a focal point for jihad," says Army Lt. Col Todd Breasseale, a Department of Defense spokesman. "The department doesn't believe that sending detainees is necessary to keeping America safe. We never have."

    "We also didn't solicit this mission. The department didn't solicit the former administration to give us a prison to manage that's outside some people's understanding of the two branches of public international law," he adds. "As long as we have the mission, we're going to do it securely, we will do it humanely and we will work to do it effectively."

    "The idea that we would still maintain, forever, a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are."

    "If nothing changes, the prisoners now at Guantanamo will stay there until they die," says Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, a military lawyer representing one of Mohammed's co-defendants, Ammar al Baluchi.

    Only a small number of the 166 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay are designated for trial, he says. The U.S. government has claimed the power to hold the remaining detainees indefinitely, even if they are acquitted.

    "The vast majority are being held indefinitely, with no resolution in sight," he says.

    Yemeni protestors dressed in prison uniforms, chant slogans during a demonstration April 16 demanding the release of Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison in front of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

    The general officer tasked with prosecuting cases such as Mohammed's says there is an important distinction in the purpose of the detention facility.

    Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the military commissions chief prosecutor, told an audience in London last September that the detention process for Guantanamo Bay should be addressed separately from the military commissions taking place there.

    "It is of course possible to support both or to oppose both," he said during formal remarks in September to Chatham House, a London-based international affairs NGO. "But without recognizing the distinction, serious analytical errors can result, and I have encountered international colleagues on all sides of these separate questions."

    Many of these detainees have been deemed "too dangerous to release," or their home country refuses to accept them back. The complications surrounding their trial largely stem from suspicions that the U.S. government tortured them.

    "These prisoners cannot be tried because their cases present insurmountable proof problems based on the evidence collection methods," says Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz, who defends Mustafa al-Hawsaw, another co-defendant in that trial.

    The Pentagon also points to the complication of finding a new home for some of these detainees.

    "The question is: Can these nation-states who assert that they want these men, can they also make the verifiable - required by our own law - assurances that there will be no recidivism, that they will be monitored?" says spokesman Breasseale. "Or, if there are also these nations that can make these assurances, but simply don't want a Gitmo detainee within their borders?"

    "It's really an interesting conundrum under which we are working that is not without risk, that requires real diligence, and we remain committed to working under the president's guidance and to fulfilling his goal to close Gitmo's detention facility."

    "I understand that reaction [to create the Gitmo prison], but we're now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists."

    "The United States Supreme Court would come to judge that there were significant errors in the legal framework introduced by our government in response to the 9/11 attacks," chief prosecutor Martins said in September.