Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Scores of inmates face moves to U.S. jails

More than 100 suspected al-Qaeda terrorists - including some, such as Canadian Omar Khadr, held for years at Guantanamo - may be moved to prisons in the United States, as President Barack Obama tries to find ways to make good on his election vow to close the notorious prison at a U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Howls of protests greeted suggestions that terrorist suspects - including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings that destroyed New York's World Trade Center towers - could be moved to Michigan or Kansas.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has also reportedly sent files for dozens of terrorist cases to be handled by federal prosecutors in east-coast cities - including Washington and New York.

Story continues below advertisement

Two conflicting strategies are emerging, one apparently favoured by the Pentagon and the other by the Justice Department. Both are likely to spark outrage among ordinary Americans who don't want terrorist suspects brought to the United States.

The Pentagon wants Guantanamo prisoners tried in military commissions. The Justice Department is exploring whether federal courts - with their far tougher standards concerning the admissibility of evidence - could be used.

Mr. Obama, who, in his first significant act as President, ordered Guantanamo closed within a year, has already hinted that various solutions - including continuing indefinite detention without charge or trial - might be needed for some of the 240 inmates still held at Guantanamo. The site was first selected as a prison to hold terrorist suspects because the Bush administration believed it would put them beyond the protections of the U.S. Constitution.

As the White House struggled yesterday to dampen an outburst of anger over the possible transfers of terrorist suspects onshore, Mr. Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said, "No final decisions of any sort have been made." But published reports that a maximum-security federal prison in Standish, Mich., or the existing military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., were under consideration for Guantanamo transfers produced angry objections.

"A patently bad idea," said Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. "It makes no sense to spend millions and millions of dollars to build what we already have at Guantanamo."

Michigan politicians were no more receptive.

"The notion of transferring terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay to Michigan needs to end," said Republican Representative Pete Hoekstra, adding that the terrorist suspects currently imprisoned in Guantanamo "are some of the most dangerous people in the world [and]pose a major threat to U.S. national security."

Story continues below advertisement

More than 60 suspects at Guantanamo have been cleared for release, but their countries of citizenship won't take them. A handful of Uyghurs have been shipped to Bermuda and Palau. But nearly 200 others remain in Cuba.

Rights groups argue that simply closing Guantanamo without replacing the military commissions, and the possibility of indefinite detention without trial, amount to changing the name and the location without redressing the injustices.

"Closing Guantanamo will be an empty gesture if we just reopen it on shore under a different name," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU National Security Project.

"Any system of indefinite detention without charge or trial would be inconsistent with American values and would only provoke the same legal challenges and international outcry that Guantanamo provoked," he added.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.