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Guantanamo Bay's Slow Closing Act

If progress in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was measured in prisoner numbers alone, December 15 could mark a watershed day for President Barack Obama. The president, who has called the offshore facility a stain on the country's international reputation, directed the government to purchase a small-town prison in his home state of Illinois to house up to roughly half of the 210 inmates at Guantanamo. The move has triggered a range of sentiment, including strong criticism (Politico) from congressional Republicans who say that transferring accused terrorists poses an unnecessary security risk. Even human rights groups appear unhappy. One of them, Amnesty International USA, said in a statement: "The only thing that President Obama is doing with this announcement is changing the ZIP code of Guantanamo."

Obama's plan for the Thomson Correctional Center, outlined in a letter to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, would turn the prison into a dual-use facility, housing federal inmates under the auspices of the Department of Justice, and select Guantanamo detainees monitored by the Department of Defense. Administration officials say as many one hundred prisoners could be bound for Illinois (NYT), the majority ineligible for transfer, trial, or release. It's this so-called "fifth category" of detainee that gives civil libertarians pause (Washington Independent).

A maze of legal issues awaits congressional scrutiny. For one, inmates in Cuba are only legally allowed to challenge their detention, but once inside the United States their rights could change (CSMonitor), giving lawyers a potentially vast new arsenal of tools to fight prosecution. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder notes that Congress would need to authorize funding to transfer inmates for indefinite detention to U.S. soil. Critics also wonder...

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