The next president must take immediate steps to change the dynamic at Guantánamo or risk consigning the United States as a whole to a similar standing as the Bush administration. To signal a clear, early departure from the Bush administration without rushing important decisions, the next president should, soon after taking office, announce that the last detainee at Guantánamo will be transferred in no longer than 18 months. This move could come as soon as the Inaugural Address or the first week of the administration, meaning the target date for getting to zero would be around July 20, 2010.
The announcement will also establish a realistic 18-month timetable, which will give policymakers the opportunity to work through the difficult challenges of getting to zero without dragging the process out indefinitely. And it changes the frame of the debate from “should we close Guantánamo” to “how do we get it done?” Establishing a firm date to close the prison starts the clock ticking, creating additional motivation to find solutions to even the most difficult challenges related to closing the prison.
The next administration should invite representatives of any nation that has, or had, detainees at Guantánamo to tour the facility and publicly report its findings. Oversight should be sought from international organizations and American professional associations including the United Nations, NATO, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. Importantly, these groups should have appropriate access to the detainees themselves. The active participation of these groups is vital to closing Guantánamo and the new message about the prison should be clear: the United States will no longer be afraid of examination because it no longer has anything to hide.
The last step in the first phase is to order a top-to-bottom review of the case against each Guantánamo detainee. This process is necessary to accurately determine whether a detainee is properly categorized, rather than relying on earlier classifications made in a tainted system. Only after this process is completed will the new administration have a clear understanding of the makeup of the detainee population at Guantánamo and be able to proceed with confidence toward the goal of closing the prison in 18 months.
Neither the timeline nor the process should be interpreted as a mechanism to keep the population of the prison at existing levels throughout the 18-month period. Real urgency exists to resolve the fate of these detainees, and the program to close Guantánamo should begin to move detainees out of the prison as rapidly as possible. Consequently, these reviews should take place in the first weeks of the new administration and be completed in a maximum of one month.
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