MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
President Obama signed an executive order today that ends a two-year ban on military trials at Guantanamo Bay. The president had campaigned on a promise to close the detention facility, but that has turned out to be difficult.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that Mr. Obama's actions today set up a system that could keep Guantanamo operating for some time. And Dina joins now. And what exactly did the president do today?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Actually, he did something very comprehensive. He laid out a whole new process for dealing with detainees in Cuba. Now, there have essentially always been three groups of people the administration was dealing with. You know, those that they wanted to try in federal civilian courts, those that were going to be tried in military commission, and then there was this third category that no one quite knew how to deal with, which were people who couldn't be tried for various reasons in either of those other two venues, but in the administration's view were too dangerous to release.
So this is the first that the administration has addressed that last group directly.
SIEGEL: Well, let's take the three groups one at a time, and starting with military commissions. Those are the trials held at Guantanamo.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, exactly. Basically two years ago, the Obama administration put all new trials of the commission on hold so they could review the status of the 170 or so detainees who were still being held. They announced today that that review is complete.
And in those two years, the Obama administration basically tinkered at the edges of the military commission system, and they changed rules of evidence, and of hearsay and discovery - that sort of thing.
So starting from today, we may start hearing about new cases in the military forum.
SIEGEL: Well, what about the cases that would be held in civilian courts?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, those seem to be the most controversial. You know, Congress had passed laws that made it virtually impossible for the administration to transfer Guantanamo detainees here for trial in a regular, federal or criminal court.
And the only detainee who was essentially grandfathered-in was Ahmed Ghailani who was detained for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. And you'll recall he was charged with hundreds of counts of murder and conspiracy and ended up being convicted by a jury on just a single count of conspiracy. And in the end, he did get life in prison. But critics of federal trial saw that as too close to call.
SIEGEL: Which brings us to the especially problematic group - the detainees who don't seem to fit into either system.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. I mean essentially the president has codified a system detaining people indefinitely. And this is a system for those people deemed too dangerous to release. The executive order that he signed today essentially sets up a review process for people who've been put in that third category. And basically the process would take place before a review board with representatives from the Department of Defense, Justice, State and some other agencies. And there'd be an initial review and then the administration would basically review the information on the detainee, new and old information, every six months.
So that the idea is that detainees would have some recourse, they aren't just locked up and forgotten.
SIEGEL: So then what does this all mean, Dina, for the idea of Guantanamo closing?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, administration officials still say the president is still committed to closing Guantanamo Bay. But, you know, on some level, what happened today is recognition that that's still quite a long ways off.
SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston.