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Obama holds fire on Guantanamo closure -

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Obama holds fire on Guantanamo closure

Broadcast: 14/05/2009

Reporter: Tracy Bowden

President Barack Obama has reversed a decision to release photos showing abuse of detainees held by
US authorities abroad, saying he feared it would cause a backlash against American troops abroad.
President Obama's pledge to close the notorious US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba is
also proving to be more of a challenge than the new administration anticipated.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: To America now, and President Barack Obama has reversed a decision to
release photos showing abuse of detainees held by US authorities abroad, saying he feared it would
cause a backlash against American troops abroad.

President Obama's pledge to close the notorious US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is
also proving to be more of a challenge than the new administration anticipated.

There's been heated debate in Congress over plans to transfer some of the detainees to the US
mainland. And there are now reports that the President will revive the discredited Bush military
commissions, which he suspended in January.

North America correspondent Tracy Bowden reports.

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: Barack Obama had been in office just two days when he signed an executive
order to shut done the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Guantanamo Bay will be closed no later than one year from now.

TRACY BOWDEN: But saying it and making it happen are two very different things.

BEN WITTES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There was, I think, an overly optimistic sense among a lot of
Democrats about how easily this problem was going to be to fix, if it had been easy, it would have
been fixed a long time ago.

JOHN BELLINGER, FORMER LEGAL AVISOR TO CONDALEEZZA RICE: He got the benefit of the big announcement
that, "I'm going to close Guantanamo," but he's getting into the same gridlock that we had in the
Bush Administration to try to actually get it done.

TRACY BOWDEN: There are now 241 inmates at the US naval base in Cuba. They fall into three
categories; those considered too dangerous to release but who can't be successfully tried; those
who could face trial; and a group of detainees who've been cleared for release but may face
persecution if returned to their home countries

BEN WITTES: Figuring out how to hold the people you want to hold is an issue, figuring out how to
try the people you want to try is an issue, and weirdly, figuring out how to release the people you
want to release is also a difficult issue.

TRACY BOWDEN: The dilemma is causing uproar in Congress.

SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI: Mr Attorney-General, are you saying, first of all, there's no immediate
or imminent release of prisoners that would be placed on the shores on the shores of the United
States of America.

ERIC HOLDER, US ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, as I said, we are still in the process of making those
determinations.

TRACY BOWDEN: Attorney-General Eric Holder was grilled about any plans for the transfer of alleged
enemy combatants to US soil.

SENATOR SHELBY: Isn't that a dicey thing to do; do you know of any community in the United States
of America that would welcome terrorists, former terrorists, would be terrorists?

ERIC HOLDER: It would not be the intention of this administration or this Attorney-General to place
anybody either in any part of this world who is a risk to the community, to the country that is
receiving these individuals.

TRACY BOWDEN: Republican law makers have introduced the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which
prohibits the release of suspected terrorists to any US states without the approval of the State's
Governor or Legislature.

BEN WITTES: The basic problem which operates, as I say, both domestically and internationally is
that nobody wants to live next door to a Guantanamo detainee.

JOHN BELLINGER: It has really been a great public relations nightmare and a disaster for us, but
that's...

TRACY BOWDEN: John Bellinger was legal advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the
Bush administration and grappled with the same issues, including trying to convince other countries
to accept some of the detainees.

JOHN BELLINGER: It was very, very difficult to get countries to take back their own nationals, and
then virtually impossible to get other countries to take other people's nationals, because they
felt, one, this was a US problem, the feeling that I heard in Europe in particular all the time
was, "This is the US bed, they made it, they need to lie in it."

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: They want to get out because they want to kill more Americans.

TRACY BOWDEN: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a player in many of the Bush's
administration's controversial decisions in the war on terror, has declared closing Gitmo will make
America less safe.

DICK CHENEY: I don't know a single congressional district that is going to say, "Gee, great,
they're sending us 20 al-Qaeda terrorists." It's a graphic demonstration of why Guantanamo is
important.

GENERAL JIM JONES (ret), NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The Obama administration inherited a situation
that - Guantanamo - that was intolerable.

TRACY BOWDEN: The President's National Security advisor, retired General Jim Jones, has defended
the administration's approach.

GENERAL JIM JONES (ret): The President is absolutely committed to making sure that we recognise the
rule of law principle, that we don't make America less safe.

JOHN MCCAIN, REPUBLICAN SENATOR: That is a terrible mistake; announce the closure but don't address
the underlying problems a lot of us have been wrestling with for eons.

TRACY BOWDEN: Then there is the thorny legal issue of prosecuting the suspects. The President's
initial plan was to us the US Federal Court system, but now there are reports that the much
criticised Bush military commissions will be reinstated in a revised form.

JOHN BELLINGER: It does look like the Obama administration will find that military commissions are
perhaps a necessary evil. They're not a thing that makes anybody terribly happy, but to hold these
terror suspects accountable, who were not arrested inside the United States but were detained
elsewhere, that we do need to have a special system.

TRACY BOWDEN: How difficult will that be, given the Democrats were so critical of the military
commissions?

JOHN BELLINGER: I think they will probably, if they do keep the military commissions, that they
will make some changes to them, perhaps quite loudly to emphasise the significance of the change
from the Bush administration.

TRACY BOWDEN: Human rights organisations applaud the plan to close the prison, but are strongly
critical of any suggestion that military commissions could be reintroduced.

DEVON CHAFFEE, LEGAL ADVOCATE, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: Detainees that are suspected of committing
terrorist crimes should be tried before US Federal courts.

TRACY BOWDEN: What if the administration decides that the best way to try people is to bring back
the military commissions?

DEVON CHAFFEE: It's a system that is tainted and it has been tainted. It's unlikely that any
conviction that comes out of the military commission's trial will have any real legitimacy
internationally or have legitimacy with the American public. It's time to abandon that system.

TRACY BOWDEN: But will closing Guantanamo really signal a break with the past? Or will it be a case
of the same issues, just a different location?

JOHN BELLINGER: Some number of people need to be detained somewhere. You can look down the road for
a while and can see this problem is going to be with us for a long time to come.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tracy Bowden reporting from Washington.