Happy First Anniversary of Gitmo's 'Final Days!' Too Bad It's Still Full of Prisoners

One year ago, I traveled to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to watch firsthand as President Barack Obama pledged to close the extrajudicial prison.

I was witness to Guantánamo's "final days," I wrote. It seemed like a reasonable thing to say. After all, on his very first day in office, Obama promised Gitmo would be emptied of prisoners within one calendar year.

But, as of last week, 12 months have come and gone, and more than 200 prisoners are still rotting next to the Caribbean Sea, far from a fair trial.

So what went wrong? Not to take too much credit, but Obama ran into just the sort of predicament we worried about in our story.

Miami New Times was inside the Guantánamo Bay camps for both [Omar] Khadr's January 20 hearing, likely the last one to be held in Cuba, and President Obama's order the next day to close the place. Cases like the child soldier's represent perhaps the new president's most difficult challenge: what to do with the men -- now further radicalized by torture -- who would almost certainly threaten Americans everywhere if released.

With a major assist from a completely gutless Congress -- which has done everything possible to keep Gitmo's prisoners from American soil without proposing any reasonable alternatives -- Obama never figured out how to navigate that challenge.

How do we seperate the really dangerous guys from the duds? And what do we do with either kind of prisoner?

Obama blew the one-year deadline, but that doesn't mean his plans for Gitmo are totally lost. His administration has already cleared the way for five prisoners to be tried in U.S. courts.

And just this morning, word leaked that a presidential panel will recommend sending 80 more prisoners to the States for trial or continued imprisonment.

So -- assuming Congress grows some balls at some point -- Gitmo conceivably could empty out by next year.

Obama might have much more serious Gitmo problems to worry about by then, though.

Harper's magazine recently published an extraordinary story -- seriously, read it. Read it now. -- that lays out compelling evidence that three prisoners were murdered in a secret Gitmo interrogation center in 2006.

Worse, the story says, military and government officials then conspired to make their deaths look like suicides.

The alleged murders and coverups took place on Dubya's watch, but Harper's reports Obama's White House might have purposely botched a follow-up investigation and hoped no one would notice.

So far, the story hasn't landed with the force of Abu Ghraib -- but that might just be a matter of time.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink