On the issue of what to do with Guantanamo detainees, Barack Obama is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
As he struggles with the political backlash from a Congress determined to keep Guantanamo terrorism suspects out of the U.S., his administration is reportedly preparing an executive order that would give him authority to hold prisoners indefinitely without trial, according to weekend media reports.
News of the order was reported by The Washington Post and ProPublica, an independent investigative newsroom, and published Saturday by The Post and later by The New York Times. It would involve some 90 Guantanamo detainees who are regarded as "too dangerous to release" but who cannot be tried in U.S. criminal courts because evidence against them was gathered by cooperating foreign intelligence services or because it is tainted by the suspects being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.
The dilemma of what to do with these suspects is threatening to scuttle Obama's pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay (GITMO) prison camp by January 2010.
In one of the few truly bipartisan actions recently taken by Congress, lawmakers of both parties and in both the House of Representatives and the Senate - their eyes fixed firmly on the 2010 elections - have expressed overwhelming opposition to bringing GITMO detainees to the U.S., even to stand trial. Amid charges of fear-mongering, they voted earlier this month to deny the administration the money it requested to fund the closure of the iconic prison.
But part of Obama's dilemma is that an "indefinite detention" regime would channel the position taken by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and would also threaten to alienate the left-wing of Obama's Democratic Party, including the human and civil rights communities, which hailed the new president's decisions to outlaw torture and shutter Guantanamo.
Civil libertarians and many legal scholars were quick to condemn the idea of indefinite detention. Here's what some of them told us:
Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU), said, "It would be highly disappointing if President Obama accepted the false proposition that a system of indefinite detention is either necessary or legal. It is neither. The suggestion that the President himself has the prerogative to declare individual enemies and suspend the core protections of the Bill of Rights smacks of the same assertion of sweeping executive power that characterized the last administration and that is antitethical to our basic framework of government."
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