The White House today challenged president-elect Barack Obama to make good on his campaign promise to close Guantanámo Bay saying “it’s not so easy” to shut down the notorious detention centre.
Hopes that Obama would move swiftly to dismantle the detention facility rose after the Associated Press reported today that his legal advisers were drafting plans to ship scores of inmates from the offshore prison to the mainland to stand trial in US courts.
Under plans drawn up by Obama’s advisers, between 60 and 80 detainees would be put on trial in the US in a mix of civilian criminal courts and the court martial system. About 17 high-level detainees, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would also go on trial but before a new version of a national security court – not the Bush administration’s much criticised military tribunals.
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately called on Obama to ban torture and rendition as well as close down Guantanámo.
“There is no room for patience or delay in these areas. We have to hold president-elect Obama’s feet to the fire,” Anthony Romero, the union’s executive director, said in a statement.
But White House press secretary Dana Perino said today: “When you pick up people off the battlefield that have a terrorist background, it’s not just so easy to let them go. It’s not so easy just to say that you’re going to close Guantanámo Bay.”
The reproach from the White House saw the Obama camp moving to play down speculation about re-vising the laws dealing with Guantanamo.
“There is absolutely no truth to reports that a decision has been made about how and where to try the detainees, and there is no process in place to make that decision until his national security and legal teams are assembled.”
The push back on Guantanámo was part of a broader defence by the Bush White House of some of the more controversial policies of the last eight years – including stem-cell research. Bush and his advisers have said repeatedly they intend to cooperate fully for a smooth transition of power.