White House officials are considering a new process for deciding what to do with some detainees at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. Aides are examining an executive order to set up a regular review process for detainees who are neither released nor put on trial.
President Barack Obama says he is still committed to closing Guantanamo, as he promised in his 2008 campaign.
But the prison is still open, and the Obama administration is still trying to decide how to handle detainees who cannot be prosecuted but are too dangerous to be released.
At a White House news conference Wednesday, the president said his administration is looking at options in a review of the situation. "One of the toughest problems is what to do with people that we know are dangerous, that we know have engaged in terrorist activity, are proclaimed enemies of the United States, but because of the manner in which they were originally captured, the circumstances right after 9-11 in which they were interrogated, it becomes difficult to try them," he said.
The proposal being reviewed would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some Guantanamo detainees. But it would also allow them and their lawyers to periodically challenge the basis for their imprisonment.
Obama told reporters it is important to ensure that the detainees' legal rights are respected, but equally important to protect the safety of the American people. "Are there ways to make sure that these folks have lawyers, to make sure that these folks have the opportunity to challenge their detention, but at the same time making sure that we are not simply releasing folks who could do us grievous harm and have shown a capacity and willingness to engage in brutal attacks in the past?," he said.
President Obama said he has not seen the proposal. His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, says the review is in the early stages and must go through several more steps before reaching the president's desk.
Obama said resolving this issue is important for the United States to reinforce its values as a country that respects the rule of law. "Striking this balance between our security and making sure that we are consistent with our values and our Constitution is not an easy task, but ultimately, that is what is required for practical reasons," he said.
The president said the continued existence of Guantanamo is one of the top recruiting tools of Islamic extremists. But with this issue unresolved, it does not appear that the prison will close any time soon.