MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And we reported yesterday on secret documents that reveal much about the hundreds of men who've been detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The story also highlights a central fact about the prison. What began as an experiment with an indefinite window in the wake of 9/11 has now become a lasting American institution.
Though President Obama came into office vowing to close Guantanamo, he quickly discovered how difficult that would be. And the facility is still indeed open and still generating a lot of controversy.
To find out more about how Guantanamo has evolved and what its future might look like, we're joined by Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for the Miami Herald, who's covered the prison since detainees first arrived there back in 2002.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. CAROL ROSENBERG (Reporter, Miami Herald): Thanks for inviting me.
NORRIS: Now, remind us. When the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo, what was the long-term thinking about Guantanamo Bay?
Ms. ROSENBERG: It had no end date in sight, but it also was a very simple concept. If you recall back in January '02, the American military was in Afghanistan just drowning in prisoners who'd been collected up and around Afghanistan and on the Pakistan border and turned over to them, people they suspected to be Arab foreign fighters. And in Bagram and in Kandahar and in Afghanistan, the military was just overwhelmed with these people who'd been scooped up and handed over.
And so they wanted to sort people out and remove them from the battlefield. And somebody had the idea to pick them up, put them on airplanes, move them 8,000 miles away and hold them. And pretty soon after, they decided they'd need to interrogate them in Cuba.
NORRIS: Who was that somebody?
Ms. ROSENBERG: Donald Rumsfeld was the one who first told us about it. He said that they had looked around for a suitable location. If you remember, Afghanistan was really unstable at that point. And they looked at Guam and they look at Guantanamo, and Donald Rumsfeld announced that it was the least worst place to do this activity.
NORRIS: What are the primary differences nearly a decade later in terms of what the prison looked like then and how it's operating now?
Ms. ROSENBERG: Well then, it was open air, and everything was available for everyone to see each other; guards saw prisoners, prisoners so guards. Today, it's more like a series of penitentiary buildings, hard steel and cement buildings that look like prisons in the Midwest, which is what several of the so-called camps at Guantanamo are modeled after: American Midwest prisons.
NORRIS: President Obama came into office, and one of his first official acts was to issue these series of executive orders calling for a review of options and the closure of Guantanamo Bay within one year. As we said, he discovered that that was a lot harder than it appeared when he first arrived in Washington. Why has it been so difficult for him to fulfill that promise?
Ms. ROSENBERG: Well, at this moment, he can't close it because Congress has made it impossible. Any ambition they had of moving a certain measure of these people to a U.S. prison and normalizing it is over. Congress has forbidden it through legislation, and the president signed into law bans on spending federal money to do that.
In addition, there have been restrictions imposed on the terms of releases. There's 172 people down there, and they'd like to send some home, and they'd like to set some free. And they'd like to send some of them to other prisons for detention, but Congress has put a pretty heavy restrictions on the circumstances of the transfer. You really have to get a federal judge's order to leave Guantanamo at this point.
And then there's another problem, which is we all know about the instability in Yemen. Not quite a hundred of those men are from Yemen. And even the ones that they want to send back, they will not send back because they just figure there's going to be no way to keep track of these men.
So now, we have kind of the Bush doctrine down at Guantanamo with the Obama administration saying, we will have indefinite detention without charge of some of these foreign men picked up a decade ago.
NORRIS: Carol Rosenberg, thanks for coming in.
Ms. ROSENBERG: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's Carol Rosenberg. She's a reporter with the Miami Herald.