NPR logo

Little Progress On Closing Guantanamo As Trials Start

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Little Progress On Closing Guantanamo As Trials Start


Little Progress On Closing Guantanamo As Trials Start

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


President Obama came into office promising to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to bring detainees to trial in civilian courts whenever possible. But far from shuttered, the prison is still humming with activity and the first military trial on Mr. Obama's watch is now underway.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports on how the administration's plans went south.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The White House says it's sticking to its promise to close Guantanamo. It's relocated 64 detainees since the president took the oath of office. But that may be the only part of the Guantanamo machinery that's operating as planned.

Here's Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution.

Mr. BENJAMIN WITTES (Research Director, Public Law, Brookings Institution): The basic problem is that you have an administration that's internally divided about how to proceed, that has no obvious partner, and a toxic political atmosphere in which this is very few people's highest priority.

JOHNSON: The plan to close the prison hit a series of roadblocks, some political and some of the administration's own making.

Advisers split over whether to try the masterminds of the September 11th attacks in civilian courts in New York or in military tribunals. New York politicians balked, so that decision is still on ice.

Attorney General Eric Holder talked last month to CBS about unexpected hurdles in the administration's path.

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER: There have been restrictions that have been talked about by Congress, some of which have been imposed. We're going to have to work with Congress in order, I think, ultimately, to bring this case to trial.

JOHNSON: But finding partners in Congress has been a lonely effort, too, with the sole exception of South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

Graham introduced legislation last week that would give the administration legal underpinning to hold detainees indefinitely. That bill had no co-sponsors. And both political parties voted to bar the White House from spending federal money to bring detainees onto American soil.

Jameel Jaffer works at the American Civil Liberties Union. He says he's disappointed by the atmosphere.

Mr. JAMEEL JAFFER (American Civil Liberties Union): The fact remains that we still have well over 100 people at Guantanamo who are being held in most cases indefinitely, without charge or trial. They've never had an opportunity, a meaningful opportunity, to contest the evidence against them. And that's a moral travesty, as well as a legal one.

JOHNSON: To the dismay of human rights groups and even some White House advisers, the first real activity in months is this week's military trial of a former child soldier. The U.S. military captured Omar Khadr in 2002, when he was just 15 years old. He's accused of throwing a grenade that killed a Special Forces soldier.

Another detainee, Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, pleaded guilty Monday in a separate military commission proceeding. The terms of that plea deal are secret for now, a condition that some critics say contradicts Obama's pledge of transparency.

Attorney General Eric Holder says closing Guantanamo remains a priority.

Attorney General HOLDER: Guantanamo serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida. The intelligence continues to show that that is true. It has served as a wedge between us and our traditional allies.

JOHNSON: But Ben Wittes says he sees little action behind the rhetoric.

Mr. WITTES: The administration continues to talk about closing Guantanamo as a national security imperative and doing nothing to effectuate it. Now, either it is a national security imperative, in which case you should be fighting for it, or it is not a national security imperative, in which case you shouldn't be saying that it is.

JOHNSON:�The Justice Department says 176 men remain at Gitmo, down from 240 at the start of the Obama administration. The military commission proceedings in Cuba will continue through August.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.