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Soldier exchange aside, Guantanamo hurdles persist

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 05:17 p.m. HST, Jun 01, 2014

MIAMI >> President Obama has edged closer to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison by swapping five Taliban members for a captured American soldier, but the criticism he faced Sunday for the deal underscores the challenges he faces in emptying out the cells at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Several members of Congress condemned the exchange, saying among other things that it could put troops in danger if the freed Taliban resume hostilities against the United States.

That fear prompted Congress to impose restrictions on the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo that have thwarted Obama's pledge to close the detention center within the first year of taking office.

Congress eased the restrictions on transfers somewhat last year and a Senate committee has approved lifting a ban on sending prisoners to the U.S. But significant challenges remain, including any blowback over the exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and time is running short.

"It's possible that President Obama could make a big move in his last two years, presumably after the midterm elections," said John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the State Department and National Security Council. "But it's equally possible he will decide he can't close it or Congress will make it impossible to close and it will get kicked down the road to his successor."

The remaining 149 prisoners fall into several, somewhat fluid categories. Nearly 80 of them have been approved for transfer to their homelands or a third country. Those moves have gradually resumed after coming to a halt due to security requirements imposed by Congress that were altered last year.

Some who have criticized the government for moving too slowly on transfers say the exchange for Bergdahl, which took place without a required 30-day notice to Congress, shows the Obama administration can act more forcefully to close Guantanamo.

"This illustrates that the U.S. government can transfer prisoners when it is motivated to do so," said Wells Dixon, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights who has represented prisoners at Guantanamo. "There are four more Afghans cleared for transfer and they need to be transferred. He can start with them."

Many legal experts have argued that the U.S. will lose its authority under international law to hold members of the Taliban without charge when combat comes to an end in Afghanistan. That thinking, which wouldn't necessarily apply to Guantanamo prisoners who are affiliated with al-Qaida, may have been a factor in the exchange for Bergdahl, said Bellinger, who served during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Their release, he said, could be seen as a "reasonable compromise" to a difficult dilemma. "Frankly, they are only being released seven months earlier than they might otherwise have to have been released," Bellinger said.

The U.S. has said that nearly 40 of the prisoners at Guantanamo are too dangerous to release, but can't be charged for a number of reasons, often because there isn't sufficient evidence against them. Officials have been slowly trying to whittle this number down in recent months with a Periodic Review Board that has been taking a new look at their cases, and several have now been moved to the transfer category.

The rest are prisoners who could be prosecuted if they could be moved to civilian court in the United States or face trial by military commission at Guantanamo. A Senate committee has approved legislation that would allow transfer of prisoners to the U.S. for detention or medical treatment but the measure faces uncertain prospects in the House of Representatives.

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cojef wrote:
Diplomacy being given a new level of acknowledgement. Appeasement or surrender to terrorism.
on June 1,2014 | 10:56AM
Kawipoo wrote:
Other kidnapping will follow. You don't deal with terrorists. Obama wants to close Guantanamo so this is a way to do it. Let Americans get kidnapped and say he has to release all of them because they are about to be killed. This joker should not be president.
on June 1,2014 | 02:30PM
hanalei395 wrote:
"You don't deal with terrorists" ....... Ronald Reagan did. Twice. The "Arms for Hostages" deals.
on June 1,2014 | 05:37PM
McB0B wrote:
Exactly which dangerous terrorists did Reagan free, pray tell? There's a bit of a difference in case the nuances escape you. Obama has released a group of very dangerous murderers who have chosen to devote their lives to killing Americans, and these aren't simple gunmen. These are the guys who send the gunmen and bombers. That's a little different than what Reagan did which was to, with Israel's help, give Iran the means to keep slugging it out with Iraq to keep the two busy enough that the rest of the neighborhood wasn't the object of their mischief. That's like coming across two guys fighting who have each sworn to kill you and your family, and handing the guy who's losing a Red Bull, hoping they manage to kill each other. That's how the real world works, regardless of whether you and I happen to think they'd be better off doing something more constructive in the scheme of things. Most important of all however is what what many people miss completely, which is that by doing what he did Obama has sent the message that taking hostages works. Iran got more grief out of the hostage situation than anything if you think about it, turning them into pariahs internationally, having massive overseas accounts frozen, and generally tossing their economy into chaos. Who wants that? This one's a win all around for the bad guys though and that's a very different and dangerous thing.
on June 1,2014 | 10:58PM
samidunn wrote:
The guy was a deserter. He walked away from his post without his weapon.
on June 1,2014 | 03:52PM
inverse wrote:
I heard that as well on the news. If that is true, Obama should NOT have released five high ranking Al Qaeda terrorists who have blood on their hands, for this American soldier who might allegedly been a deserter. Garans if given a chance one or all five of these terrorists are going to enact revenge against Americans, probably non military US citizens who are most vulnerable and the easiest to attack and kill.
on June 1,2014 | 05:03PM
Ewaduffer wrote:
You do realize that your comments and allegations that "this guy" is a deserter are not protected by any so called free speech ideals don't you.
on June 1,2014 | 05:19PM
SteveToo wrote:
And why not? Deformation of character? Slander? You could be right.
on June 1,2014 | 08:02PM
aomohoa wrote:
You do realize that it's the truth according to people who are stationed with him.
on June 1,2014 | 08:37PM
aomohoa wrote:
There was a posting direct from a guy who was stationed with him. He was a deserter!
on June 1,2014 | 08:08PM
MrMililani wrote:
Bad idea. Never deal with terroists. Being captured is one of the hazards of being in the military.
on June 1,2014 | 04:07PM
inverse wrote:
Read what Sami- wrote, which I think might be true. This guy might have been a deserter who left his post without his weapon.
on June 1,2014 | 05:16PM
RichardCory wrote:
Yeah, and I'm sure you'd say the same if it happened to you or your loved one.
on June 1,2014 | 05:43PM
calentura wrote:
And what if one of the soldiers who died looking for the deserter was YOUR loved one..?
on June 1,2014 | 09:56PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I think much more will come about this story. Something doesn't pass the sniff test here.
on June 1,2014 | 06:24PM
false wrote:
Obama will pardon them all on January 19th, 2017
on June 1,2014 | 07:32PM
SteveToo wrote:
Glad U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is safe. I read somewhere his father praised Islam publicly while standing there w/Obama. I guess that was part of the deal. Now that his son is free I hope he recants.
on June 1,2014 | 08:01PM
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