Guantanamo At 10: U.S. Weighs Future Of Detainees It's been a decade since prisoners were first sent to Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. now must decide whether to release some of those initial detainees as part of a goodwill gesture to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban.
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Guantanamo At 10: U.S. Weighs Future Of Detainees

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Guantanamo At 10: U.S. Weighs Future Of Detainees

Guantanamo At 10: U.S. Weighs Future Of Detainees

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And we're marking an anniversary today. Ten years ago, the first 20 detainees arrived at the prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Over the years, more than 700 people were held at the prison. Some are still there; others were sent home or to other countries. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has this report on Guantanamo a decade after that first flight landed, and on some of the men who were on the plane that day.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The 20 detainees who stumbled down the gangway had been put on a nonstop flight from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Cuba. The men came from many countries: Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia and Afghanistan. They all wore the same blackened goggles, earmuffs and orange socks. Some of the original 20 are still at Guantanamo today. But the prison has changed a lot since then.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome, we're getting your luggage all situated, and we'll get you out here and get you badged in and moving forward, so...

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's what happens these days when journalists arrive on the tarmac at Guantanamo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many first time to Guantanamo? It'll be interesting. I think we've got a great program set up for you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The program includes tours of camps, and watching military commission proceedings from behind soundproof glass. There's a certain permanence to Guantanamo that's unexpected, given that President Obama unequivocally promised to close the place. This is the president saying as much on "60 Minutes."


TEMPLE-RASTON: The president is not much closer to closing Guantanamo today than he was then. His administration's best hope for shuttering the place rests with this man.

BRIG. GEN. MARK MARTINS: I am Brigadier General Mark Martins. I'm the chief prosecutor of military commissions.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Martins is like a U.S. attorney for Gitmo. He decides who gets a military commissions trial, and what the charges will be. Over the past 10 years, the military commissions system at Guantanamo has been criticized as second-rate justice. Martins says this year, he'll be able to convince the doubters otherwise. He says reforms to the military commission system have made it much more like a criminal trial in the U.S., and that will become clear as trials get under way this year. There are stronger rules of evidence, and more robust protections for attorney-client privilege.

MARTINS: I would not be part of this system if I didn't think that a full and fair trial will be held, and that justice will be served.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Even if Martins is right, there's a complication. Not everyone held at Guantanamo will get a hearing, which means some people may be detained without trial.

KAREN GREENBERG: But unless they try everybody...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Karen Greenberg runs the National Center on Security at Fordham University.

GREENBERG: Unless they try everybody, they haven't tackled the hardest problem about Guantanamo and its legality.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are still 171 detainees at Gitmo. About 80 of them have been identified for release. Another three dozen will likely be tried in the commissions. And then there's this other group - the group Greenberg is talking about, the 48 detainees who are likely to be held indefinitely because there's not enough evidence to try them, but the U.S. says they're too dangerous to release. However, there may be one other option - transferring detainees as part of a broader negotiation strategy. It would involve those three Afghans that arrived on that first flight to Guantanamo. U.S. officials are weighing whether to allow them to leave as part of a goodwill gesture to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban.

GREENBERG: It's a philosophical game changer.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, Karen Greenberg.

GREENBERG: It's a wise course to at least to consider it. And if it does happen, I think it can change a lot of things in its wake, in terms of how we're going to progress in the region.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The three original detainees include the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence, Abdul Wasiq; a governor from northern Afghanistan, Norullah Noori; and finally, the Taliban's deputy minister of defense, Mohammed Fazl.

A source close to the prisoner-transfer discussions said the men could be moved to a third country - possibly Qatar. The transfer would be part of a broader plan that would include setting up cease-fire zones in Afghanistan, to test whether the Taliban is really serious about peace. It would mark the first time that detainees at Guantanamo would be transferred as part of an effort to wind down the war.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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