With a spectacular backtrack, U.S. President Barack Obama reneged on a campaign promise to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and restart trials of detainees. The military prison, which holds suspected terrorists, will now stay open indefinitely, with Obama’s executive order to create a system for holding the terrorist suspects at the infamous prison.
In a statement, Obama attempted to quell backlash against the reversal of his stated pre-presidency intentions:
"Today, I am announcing several steps that broaden our ability to bring terrorists to justice, provide oversight for our actions and ensure the humane treatment of detainees," the President's statement said. "I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system - including [federal] Article III Courts - to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened," he said.
Administration officials continue to contend that this is not the breaking of a campaign promise, and that the president is still committed to closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison. However, many are questioning how endorsing the continuation of the facilities could indicate Obama’s continuing commitment to closing the facility. In fact, many observers of the situation believe that the Obama action follows the Bush-era stance on counter terrorism.
Some are stating that the growing bipartisan opposition to the proposed U.S. dentention center for holding and prosecuting terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay has forced the president to face the reality of the situation and backtrack. "The executive order recognizes the reality that some Guantanamo Bay detainees will remain in U.S. custody for many years, if not for life," the Washington Post said.
The American Civil Liberties Uniion (ACLU) publicly criticized the president’s actions. “The best way to get America out of the Guantanamo morass is to use the most effective and reliable tool we have: our criminal justice system. Instead, the Obama administration has done just the opposite and chosen to institutionalize unlawful indefinite detention – creating a troubling ‘new normal’ – and to revive the illegitimate Guantanamo military commissions," ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said. According to the ACLU, President Obama has now institutionalized what the ACLU believes to be unlawful, indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and accused the president of going back on his word regarding Guantanamo.
"It is virtually impossible to imagine how one closes Guantanamo in light of this executive order," said Romero. "In a little over two years, the Obama administration has done a complete about-face."
Republican lawmakers praised the president’s order on Guantanamo, and claiming that the new executive order vindicated the much-maligned President George W. Bush. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, stated, "I commend the Obama Administration for issuing this Executive Order," the Post reported. "The bottom line is that it affirms the Bush Administration policy that our government has the right to detain dangerous terrorists until the cessation of hostilities."
The new executive order applies to a minimum of 48 of the current 172 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, who are not able to be tried in a regular court, but who are too dangerous to move to another country, such as the U.S., for detention. Each detainee is to receive a written, unclassified review of his situation within 12 months. Those who continue to fight against the Guantanamo Bay detention do not believe that there are legal grounds for holding these prisoners indefinitely, but the new executive order asserts the Obama administration's apparent agreement with the Bush administration that the detainees at Guantanamo can be legally held under the laws of war—an assertion that has been upheld in federal courts.