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75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today

There's no reason for any of these prisoners, several of whom were cleared under Bush, to be held for one minute longer.

Last week, the Obama administration finally admitted that it might not be possible to close Guantánamo by the President's self-imposed deadline of January 22, 2010, when defense secretary Robert Gates told ABC News' "This Week" that it was “going to be tough” to meet the deadline. The announcement followed what appeared to be strategic leaks by administration insiders, which were designed to blame White House Counsel Greg Craig for the government's woes.

Why it has taken so long to clear 75 prisoners for release

It was Craig who had pushed for the deadline, but although the Washington Post, in a joint article with ProPublica, reported several critical comments from current officials, claiming that Craig's drive to set a deadline flew in the face of conflicting advice -- in particular, a claim by "a senior government lawyer" that "The entire civil service counseled him not to set a deadline" -- others were more supportive. The Post closed its article with a comment from an administration official who was "more effusive," and who stated, "Greg Craig is a hero. He took responsibility for this policy from the beginning, and he has guts and character. If we can't get it done by the deadline, then at least we'll have done as much as we can as smoothly as we could have." In addition, in his interview with ABC News, Secretary Gates also declared his support for the initiative:

When the president elect met with his new national security team in Chicago on December 7th … last year, this issue was discussed, about closing Guantánamo and executive orders to do that and so on. And the question was, should we set a deadline? Should we pin ourselves down? I actually was one of those who said we should because I know enough from being around this town that if you don’t put a deadline on something, you’ll never move the bureaucracy.  But I also said and then if we find we can't get it done by that time but we have a good plan, then you're in a position to say it’s going to take us a little longer but we are moving in the direction of implementing the policy that the president set. And I think that’s the position that we’re in.

Moreover, the lion's share of the blame for delays in the closure of Guantánamo actually lies with lawmakers and with other officials in the Obama administration. After the President issued executive orders on his second day in office, which included the Guantánamo deadline, the administration then dithered, failing to support Guantánamo's most celebrated innocents, the Uighurs, whose release into the United States was ordered by District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina last October, by backing the Court of Appeals in its decision to overturn that ruling in February this year.

This cowardice then allowed paranoid and opportunistic right-wingers to seize the initiative, reviving the Bush administration's deceitful claims that Guantánamo is "full of terrorists" (as particularly promoted by former Vice President Dick Cheney), and encouraging both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass legislation preventing the transfer of prisoners to the United States and withholding funding for the prison's closure.

In addition, the government's decision to support the Court of Appeals in the Uighurs' case was not the only example of the Justice Department's distressing failure to confront the many injustices inherited from the Bush administration. Since Obama came to power, those charged with preparing the government's opposition to other prisoners' habeas corpus petitions -- apparently functioning without adequate insight from above -- have persistently failed to recognize the weaknesses in the government’s case against a large number of the prisoners, and have repeatedly humiliated themselves in court, challenging habeas corpus petitions that they have not only lost, but that have been accompanied by withering criticism from the judges involved (see the cases of Abdul Rahim al-Ginco and Fouad al-Rabiah for the most severe examples).

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