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ALEX COHEN, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, a banking system in crisis, record-high unemployment levels - how should the new president deal with the troubled economy? We hear a few suggestions.

But first, today President Obama signed executive orders to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison by the end of this year, fulfilling one of his campaign promises. The move raises plenty of questions about how the U.S. will deal with suspected terrorists. To help us sort through some of them, we're joined now by Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor for Slate.com. Dahlia, there are nearly 250 detainees still at Guantanamo. So what will happen to them now?

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Senior Editor, Slate.com): Well, a whole bunch of things are going to happen, Alex, starting with what's called a rolling transfer. They're going to re-evaluate the claims against every one of the 245 remaining prisoners and determine what is - is this a legitimate case against them? Is it not? What do we do with them? Apparently, between 60 and 120 are considered to be, quote, low threats. There's 17 there that I think we've talked about before, who are these Chinese Muslim Uighurs who've already been cleared. They're not enemy combatants at all.

So there's a diplomatic portion, which is, we have to place people who are not threats. And a lot of countries have refused to enter into those diplomatic talks. One of the things Obama wants to do is step up those conversations and see if we can transfer these people who are not threats to third countries or alternatively, bring them here.

Then there's this other set of questions about the people who, in fact, are worthy of prosecution. Where are they going to be prosecuted? That piece of it has not been clarified by this executive order. In other words, there's a whole bunch of possibilities. We can bring them in through the regular criminal system, through the courts-martial system. We can create some kind of new, hybrid system. All we know is that for 120 days, the military tribunals are stopping, and all we know is that there's going to be an evaluation to determine what we do next to those prisoners we want to prosecute.

COHEN: After signing these orders in the Oval Office, President Obama met with reporters. What did he have to say?

Ms. LITHWICK: What he said was, quote, this is following through not just on a commitment I made during the campaign, but an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard, end quote. In other words, he's saying this isn't just a campaign promise. This is a constitutional promise, that we don't just abide by the rule of law in peace time.

COHEN: The president signed three executive orders and a presidential directive today. Besides closing Guantanamo, what else has he carried out?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, one of the three executive orders has to do with detention policies in general. Another one has to do with closing these alleged CIA black sites, these secret prisons that have been around the world, not the base at Guantanamo. There's - we know at least eight of these secret prisons. And what he's going to do is close down those prisons, and also conform interrogations by the CIA and every other interrogator in the United States to the standard set in the U.S. Army Field Manual so that now, no longer can the CIA deviate from the protocols that are laid out in the Army Field Manual.

COHEN: Dahlia, do you have any sense of how these announcements have been playing out with the military and the CIA?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, there's been a lot of concern from a lot of quarters, including, in fact, families, 9/11 families, victims who were very upset that processes that have started that they've waited for for years are not being allowed to finish. There's also, I think, a real feeling within the CIA that these enhanced interrogation actions, as they're called, these extra methods, have, in fact, kept us safe. There's a strong belief - in fact, the outgoing director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, warned only last week the CIA needed that extra leeway to interrogate and that it's, in fact, very dangerous for America to be confining the way intelligence gathering is worked.

There's also been a real concern among some senators about what we're going to do with these detainees - that if we bring them to the United States and put them, for instance, at Fort Leavenworth, Senator Sam Brownback, Republican from Kansas, is very, very concerned that Americans will be unsafe. So, I think that there's a feeling that these executive orders do leave a lot of questions unanswered and a sense that by not answering the question, there's some possibility that some Americans are less safe.

COHEN: Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor for Slate.com. Thanks, Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: It's always a pleasure, Alex.

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