Obama's Plans For Guantanamo Guantanamo Bay has been the controversial holding place for suspected terrorists and enemy combatants, but it may change under Barack Obama's administration. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) discusses what Sen. Obama has planned for the prison.
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Obama's Plans For Guantanamo

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Obama's Plans For Guantanamo

Obama's Plans For Guantanamo

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up this Veterans' Day, the psychological effect of war on the children of soldiers.

BRAND: First, though, President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on the promise that he would close Guantanamo Bay. Now, he is creating a plan to do just that.

COHEN: According to the plan, some of the terrorism suspects now detained there would be freed. Others would face trial in U.S. courts, and some detainees might have to go before an entirely new system of justice. For more, we're joined now by Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Thanks for joining us, Congressman.

Representative ADAM SCHIFF (Democrat, California): You bet. Great to be with you.

COHEN: You are a member of the House Judiciary Committee. You've been in talks with Senator Obama's team. What exactly is the thought behind changing course here for the 250-some people imprisoned in Guantanamo?

Rep. SCHIFF: Well, I can only speak for myself. I'm not part of the transition team, and so I can't represent what the Obama team may be conferring over. But I can share my own thoughts with you. I've been working on this issue now for about seven years.

I think it will be very difficult to shut down Guantanamo immediately. I know it's something the human rights organizations have been calling for. Certainly, the president can issue a statement about his intention, and he's done that throughout the campaign. But we have tangled knot at Guantanamo of people that have been stopped and started in the tribunal system, with the military commissions. The Supreme Court has weighed in at several procedural hurdles along the way.

So, it's a tangled knot that's going to take time to untangle, but there are only a few choices with what to do with the Guantanamo detainees. Some can be repatriated back to their country of origin. A narrow group may be able to be handled within the U.S. court system. They can be brought up on criminal charges the way the Lackawanna Six and Moussaoui and others have been.

COHEN: Some of the concerns here are that defendants, in order to be tried fairly, would have the right to confront witnesses, and that means that undercover CIA agents or terrorists who've decided to work with the government might have to blow their cover. How do you handle that?

Rep. SCHIFF: Well, these are some of the extraordinary challenges, and I think that there have to be really three direct guiding principals. Number one, it's got to meet all the national security objectives. You have to be able to interrogate people. You have to be able to prevent people who mean you harm from being released or having access to classified information.

But at the same time, it's got to be very practical, and it also has to have due process standards that we can hold up to the rest of the world. That's a tall order, but you can't expect that you're going to be able to try everyone at Guantanamo, I don't think, in a U.S. criminal court and call people in from halfway around the world that are still doing battlefield duties and that involve the use of classified information.

So it has to be a system, and I think the military justice system can accommodate those concerns, but there are going to have to be some changes to it. And I think that all of those interests can be accommodated and can be done so in a much more transparent way.

COHEN: Do you have any sense of how long it would actually take to process all of these detainees and then have some sort of resolution?

Rep. SCHIFF: I think there are some things that the president-elect can do once he's sworn in very quickly to restore confidence in America's commitment to human rights. The president, for example, can on the very first day issue a new executive order and make a strong statement prohibiting torture or anything that approaches torture. That, I think, would be a powerful message.

The president can signal his intention and begin the process of dealing with Guantanamo, but, you know, I think that, as a practical matter, in terms of really shutting down the facility, while it may begin early in an administration, it's going to take months. It may take even longer than that.

COHEN: Congressman Adam Schiff represents California's 29th District. Thank you for talking with us.

Rep. SCHIFF: It was a pleasure.

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