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President Barack Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Obama’s promised closure of the Guantanamo prison camp will not happen in late January of 2010, but that “We believe we’re going to substantially meet the deadline.” Obama had announced in January of this year that “Gitmo” would be closed within a year.

However, resistance from opponents and numerous legal issues are holding-up the base closure. The biggest problem: where to send the approximately 200 prisoners being held without charge, legal recourse, or a declared state of war that would make them prisoners of war.

Obama wants to bring the prisoners on U.S. soil and hold some sort of legal hearing/trial that will hopefully legitimize the six-year existence of the Guantanamo camp, and the controversial interrogation techniques practiced there. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been a strident opponent of closing the camp, citing secrecy and intelligence concerns.

The latest plan being floated is for the Federal Government to buy an unused maximum-security prison in Illinois and house the Guantanamo prisoners there as they await probable military “tribunals”.  There are opponents to the use of the military justice system who claim it does not have the same defendant rights and protections that the public justice system provides.

Those who oppose any form of legal prosecution seem to fear the possibility the Guantanamo prisoners will be released on technicalities stemming from the questionable legality of their six-year incarceration without due-process.

If these prisoners were members of the armed forces of a recognized nation or other governing body, then the use of military courts would make some sense. However, most of them are classifiable as civilians, which is why the Bush administration tagged them with the label “unlawful combatants” – a term with no legal referent, though it is similar to the term “enemy combatant“. As civilians it seems to make sense to try them in civilian courts under civilian procedures. But some fear our justice system isn’t up to the test in the cynical wake of show trials such as the O. J. Simpson and Robert Blake cases.

The bottom line: something must be done to clean this mess up, as the Guantanamo episode has become a national embarrassment. We don’t need a replay of the sad situation with Haitian refugees that also played-out at Guantanamo under the Clinton adminstration. Perhaps we should trust our own system and get civilian trials underway.

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