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National

Will Obama Be Able To Keep His Promise Of Closing Guantanamo Bay?

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Thirteen years ago today, the first 20 war on terror detainees arrived at the prison at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama has yet to make good on his campaign promise to close the prison. Congress cut off funds to transfer the detainees to prisons in the U.S. The president has been getting around that by transferring prisoners to other countries, and the pace of those transfers has been increasing. But Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald says that transferring detainees who were cleared for release long ago is the easy part. The real concern is the group of prisoners considered too dangerous to release and those on trial in the military commissions. Right now there's no sign they're going anywhere.

CAROL ROSENBERG: That's not going to change in the last two years of this presidency. So if he wants to close it, he either has to make a deal with Congress to lift that embargo on transferring detainees to the States, or he has to decide that he has the authority to defy Congress.

RATH: Now, I saw Senator John McCain last month, actually. He sounded kind of a consolatory note, saying that he would work with the administration, but he still has his long-standing objections about the president not having a good plan.

ROSENBERG: Right. He wants a plan. And I do think that Senator McCain is the wildcard in the situation because he campaigned against Obama saying Guantanamo should close. If he and President Obama can find the formula for transferring them to the United States, then it closes. Otherwise, I don't know how this president makes good on that promise.

RATH: And, Carol, what about the detainees that are being tried by the military commissions? Isn't that going to kind of gum up the plans to close the prison?

ROSENBERG: So they're trial by military commissions, and there is nothing in the law that says those military commissions have to be held in Guantanamo. If they come up with a formula for moving them to the States, that trial could continue. But those trials, particularly the death penalty trials that, you know, there' six men who were disappeared for three and four years into the CIA black sites, they have been charged for more than two years now. And they're not moving very quickly. So again, none of that may have been concluded by the time that this president leaves office.

RATH: Finally, Carol, you mentioned that these were men who were detained in these black sites. And I know that one of the things that been holding the trials up has been the contentious issue of whether or not they can discuss what happened in those black sites. With the release of the Senate committee's report involving interrogation techniques, with that now being on the public record, does that simplify things?

ROSENBERG: It both simplifies it and complicates it. Yes, there are certain things that we in the public now know officially in an unclassified fashion or a declassified fashion. And those things can come into the court. The judges responded to the release of that report by telling the prosecution to go back through more than two years of court records and evaluate anything that was done in secret about whether it now needs to be declassified. But, you know, the defense attorneys say it has just whet their appetite to find out in the most graphic detail what happened to their clients because they argue that they need to know what was done to them when during the years that they were disappeared so that they can challenge evidence brought at trial as potentially the fruit of torture. And if the five men accused of the 9-11 attacks are convicted, the next phase is the penalty phase. And they want, again, the most graphic details to present to that military jury if they're convicted to say the United States no longer has the moral authority to execute them.

RATH: That's Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. Carol, thank you.

ROSENBERG: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.