Obama ‘to clear Guantanamo mess’

(BBC) – The US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is a “misguided experiment” and a “mess” that must be cleaned up, US President Barack Obama has said.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama delivers an address on national security, terrorism, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, 21 May, at the National Archives in Washington. Photo: AP

Mr. Obama said it had weakened national security and rallied enemies of the US, but he was determined to close it by January 2010 whilst respecting US law.

He was speaking at the US National Archives, where the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights are kept.

The US Congress has rejected Mr. Obama’s move to fund the closure.

Plans to transfer other inmates from the camp to facilities on the US mainland were also voted down by the Senate on Wednesday.

In a separate development, Ahmed Ghailani, an al-Qaeda suspect, is to become the first inmate at the Guantanamo Bay camp to stand trial in a US civilian court.

The issue of transferring Guantanamo Bay inmates to the US has caused alarm among many members in Congress.

Mr. Obama said the administration was reviewing every one of the 240 detainees still held at Guantanamo and considering what to do with them.

“We are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and our security demands,” he said, describing the Bush-era approach as “poorly-planned, [and] haphazard”.

Explaining the basis of his administration’s approach to terrorist suspects and Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Obama said the existence of the prison camp probably “created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained”.

He conceded that following through on his pledge to close Guantanamo would be “difficult and complex”, but insisted it was possible.

“As president, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. Our security interests won’t permit it. Our courts won’t allow it.”

But he offered a direct answer to critics who have said his plans would release potentially dangerous people onto the streets of the US.

“We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.”

Mr. Obama’s keynote speech is due to be followed by remarks of a very different tone by former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Cheney, a strong advocate of the camp who has emerged as a strong critic of the Obama White House, is expected to explain the rationale behind the Bush administration’s decision to establish the prison camp.