Obama set to act quickly on Guantanamo

TUESDAY, JAN. 13, 2009

Sources say he’ll sign directive within first week

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama will sign an executive order in his first week in office that sets in motion the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the highest-profile symbol of the Bush administration’s detention policies, two individuals familiar with Obama’s thinking said on Monday.

They declined to say precisely when he’d sign the directive, but they said it could be within hours of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

The order would set out the procedures for shutting the prison at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, a process that’s likely to take a considerable period of time, the two individuals said. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The process entails determining what to do with the estimated 250 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban militants housed at the prison, set up after the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The inmates include 15 “high-value” detainees, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who’s accused in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but their governments have refused to accept them. In other instances, governments are refusing to imprison Guantanamo detainees when it is a condition for their repatriation.

In the course of the closure process, the new administration also is likely to address the future of military tribunals – panels of military officers that the Bush administration created to try accused terrorists.

Many legal experts, including in the military’s own Judge Advocate General’s Corps, have condemned the commissions, charging that their rules, which admit evidence obtained through coercion, violate U.S. civil and military legal principles.

Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team, declined to comment on whether Obama would sign an executive order next week to close Guantanamo.

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