Obama: closing Guantanamo will 'take some time'

US President-elect Barack Obama promised to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison set up to house terrorist suspects, adding, however, that it would "take some time" before the camp was closed.


AFP - US president-elect Barack Obama on Sunday reiterated his vow to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp but acknowledged it might not happen within his first 100 days in office.

"It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," Obama said in an interview aired Sunday on ABC's This Week program when asked about his promise to shut the controversial military prison that still holds some 250 terrorist suspects.

Asked if he would manage to close the camp within his first 100 days as president, Obama said: "That's a challenge.

"I think it's going to take some time and our legal teams are working in consultation with our national security apparatus as we speak to help design exactly what we need to do," Obama said.

But Obama, who takes office on January 20, added emphatically that the prison on a US naval base in Cuba still holding some 250 terrorist suspects would be closed.

"I don't want to be ambiguous about this. We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution," he said.

"That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values," he said.


Human rights group urge Obama to close prison

Civil liberties groups worldwide have strongly denounced the Guantanamo prison set up in 2002 to house "enemy combatants" seized in the George W. Bush administration's "war on terrorism", primarily during the war in Afghanistan.

Guantanamo's population reached some 800 prisoners at one point, and most of those who have passed through its doors have never been charged.

Of the 250 remaining inmates, only some 20 have been charged, including five men accused of helping organize the September 11 attacks.

The Pentagon has planned to try some 60 to 80 for "war crimes" under special military tribunals.

Critics say the military justice process set up to handle the suspects deny detainees their basic rights, and they have cheered Obama's pledge to abide by constitutional principles with regard to the remaining inmates.

A legal conundrum


Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who Obama has asked to remain in his post, last month ordered contingency plans drawn up for closing Guantanamo, with options believed to range from using alternative sites on US soil for holding suspects to transferring inmates to prisons overseas.

But it remains unclear how many cases could be handled in regular US courts due to the secrecy surrounding their internment, interrogations and the evidence against them.

Obama acknowledged those difficulties in Sunday's interview.

"Part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication," he said.

"And some of the evidence against them may be tainted even though it's true."

Obama said the difficulty going forward was "how to balance creating a process that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo American legal system, by doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up."

The human rights group Amnesty International called Friday on Obama to announce a date for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

"We are not asking the impossible. Barack Obama has already stated his determination to undo some of the wrongs authorised by the US government in the name of national security and we are asking him to turn this commitment into a reality," said Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan.

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