WASHINGTON – The White House acknowledged Friday that it might not be able to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay by January as President Barack Obama has promised.
Senior administration officials said that difficulties in completing the lengthy review of detainee files and resolving thorny legal and logistical questions mean the president’s self-imposed January deadline may slip. But Obama remains committed to closing the facility, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The prison in Cuba was created by former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a landing spot for suspected al-Qaida, Taliban and foreign fighters captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But it has since become a lightning rod of anti-U.S. criticism. There are approximately 225 detainees at the prison.
Obama promised soon after taking office to close the prison, arguing that doing so is crucial to restoring America’s image and to creating a more effective anti-terrorism approach.
But a number of difficult issues remain unresolved. They include establishment of a new set of rules for military trials, finding a location for a new prison to house detainees and finding host countries for those who can be released.
This has prompted top Republicans in Congress to demand that the prison stay open for now, saying it is too dangerous to rush the closure. Even Democrats defied the president, saying they needed more information about Obama’s plan before supporting it. Congress is for now denying Obama funds to shut down Guantanamo.
After Obama’s promise, administration officials and lawyers began to review the files on each detainee. At issue: which can be tried, and whether to do so in military or civilian courts; which can be released to other nations; and which are too dangerous or their cases too compromised by lack of evidence that they must be held indefinitely.
Prosecutors have concluded their review of the detainees and recommended to the Justice Department an unspecified number who appear eligible for prosecution, the officials said. The Justice Department and the Pentagon will work together to determine which prisoners should be tried in military courts and which in civilian ones.
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