President Bush will soon decide whether to close Guantanamo Bay as a prison for al-Qaeda suspects, sources tell ABC News. High-level discussions among top advisers have escalated in the past week, with the most senior administration officials in continuous talks about the future of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay--and how it will be dramatically changed and/or closed in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling that gave detainees there access to federal courts.
Sources have confirmed that President Bush is expected to be briefed on these pressing GTMO issues--and may reach a decision on the future of the naval base as a prison for al Qaeda suspects--before he leaves for the G8 on Saturday. An announcement, however, is not expected before he leaves the country.
High-level administration officials say the Court's decision dramatically changes the legal landscape--and raises questions about whether the government has solid evidence to present to federal judges to justify ongoing detentions.
That evidence, much of it classified and obtained by military and CIA personnel on the battlefield, is not the standard kind of proof judges are accustomed to seeing in regular criminal cases here, administration officials say. The documents do not contain the kind of detail—or include sources of that information—that’s typical in criminal cases, sources say.
Late last month for example, a federal appeals court in Washington said the government failed to prove its case with one detainee from China. The administration fears that's a sign of things to come—in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling giving other detainees even broader habeas corpus rights to challenge their detentions in court, sources tell ABC News.
Of course, there is generally wide agreement--from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and even Bush himself--that GTMO should eventually be closed. But the Court ruling could well hasten that move, since it undercuts the main reason to keep the detainees there. A key reason for imprisoning the detainees at GTMO in the first place was the belief that they would not have access to the courts, since they were not on U.S. soil.
The recent discussions---which have involved numerous meetings with the most senior advisers to the President--the Principals--are about how to handle the some 260 detainees still imprisoned at GTMO. Should they be brought to the United States, and where, of course, to put them if they are to be imprisoned in this country?
Bush has not decided whether he will announce that GTMO should be closed, sources say. But at the very least, sources say, he will soon announce a host of these legal and policy changes that will force Congress to come up with a solution--including where to imprison those detainees if GTMO does, in fact, shut its doors.