Feb 24, 2020

Civil liberties groups urge Guantanamo closure

Civil liberties lawyers launch a feet-to-the-fire campaign in Monday’s editions of The New York Times, a powerful ad urging President-elect Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo prison camps and war court on inauguration day.

“On Day One, with the stroke of a pen, you can restore America’s moral leadership in the World,” says the full-page six-figure ad purchased by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Miami Herald got an exclusive sneak peek on Sunday.

Half of the ad is a photo of Obama, and recounts the president-elect’s campaign pledge to close the prison camps and abandon the special Sept. 11 war court established by the Bush administration. The other half is an indictment of Bush administration detention policies.

It is a provocative message from a potential ally of the coming Obama administration.

ACLU Executive Anthony Romero called it “a shot across the bow,” and said Sunday that his law group would invest up to $500,000 in the advertising campaign that seeks to avert any appeasement to centrists.

The campaign calls for President Obama to issue an Executive Order that puts Guantanamo out of business on Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration.

Obama spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Sunday the transition team was declining to comment.

At issue is claims in some quarters that the president would need an Act of Congress to close the prison camps that today house some 255 foreign terror suspects, and abandon the ongoing special prosecutions in favor of traditional criminal and military courts.

But legal experts, Romero among them, say President Bush created U.S. detainee policy by executive order and, as the new commander-in-chief, Obama could order the policy be dismantled.

For example, said Retired Navy Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the new president has the unilateral authority to stop the trials and order a timetable to move the detainees elsewhere.

Hutson, a former head of the Navy JAG corps, is now dean at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., and was an advisor to the Obama campaign on Guantanamo.

He would not predict, however, how swiftly the new president would seek to change U.S. detainee policies.

“He’s got an awful lot on his agenda on Day One and whether he gets to the ‘G’s for Guantanamo, I’m just not sure that’s gonna happen,” Hutson said Sunday. “I think it’s unfair to President Obama to put that kind of pressure on that particular issue or two that early in his administration.”

Romero countered that on other pressing issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, health care and the economy, Obama will need both time and “bipartisan horse trading. Closing Guantanamo and shutting down the military commissions can be done with a stroke of his pen through executive order on his first day in office.”

Ahead of the election, Obama told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he would close the prison camps “as quickly as we can do prudently.”

But he pointedly declined to set “a time certain” until after the new administration reviewed the captives’ records.

“We have to put in place appropriate plans to make sure they are tried, convicted and punished to the full extent of the law and that’s going to require, I think, a review of the existing cases which I have not had the opportunity to do,” he said.

So far 19 detainees at Guantanamo are facing charges at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Pentagon officials have said they would like to try up to 80 of the enemy combatants.

By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Tribune

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