Missteps over Guantanamo closing

Obama allies cite mistakes that delay shutting prison

November 12, 2009|By Steven Thomma | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — — President Barack Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison by Jan. 22 was followed by a series of mistakes and missteps by his administration that will delay the prison's closure for months, according to a report from a policy organization with close ties to the White House.

Those mistakes - which ranged from initially having too few people on board to handle the workload to misreading Congress - have put the timetable months behind schedule and will push the prison's closure well beyond the January deadline, which Obama announced with great fanfare two days after he took office.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

The administration is expected to announce within days the results of its review of legal cases against the remaining detainees at Guantanamo, a review that originally was scheduled to be finished in July. Among its conclusions, the administration is expected to say whether it will prosecute the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and four alleged co-conspirators in a federal civilian court.

"We hope we'll see the announcement very soon on the 9/11 case, that they're going to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other conspirators in federal court," said Ken Gude, a scholar at the Center for American Progress and the author of its new report on Guantanamo. The liberal policy organization enjoys close relations with the Obama administration, which has hired several of its scholars for senior positions.

In his study, Gude said the White House made mistakes in implementing the high-profile Guantanamo policy from the very beginning.

"It was always going to be difficult, but some unforeseen obstacles were thrown in its path, and the new administration made some mistakes that have cost time and sucked energy away from the core mission of closing the prison," he said in the report.

Two task forces - one set up to study the case files of the more than 200 detainees still held at the prison and the other charged with examining the overall detention policy - fell behind almost from the start.

A key problem was that the Obama administration was hours old and didn't have enough people to follow through quickly after Obama announced the closing plan. Those who were there couldn't find needed files quickly.

"The task forces struggled right out of the gate," Gude said in the report.

With little groundwork done to move some Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. or elsewhere, the Obama administration made what Gude called its "biggest mistake" in April by asking Congress for $80 million to finance the prison closing.

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