U.S. President Barack Obama admitted Wednesday for the first time that his administration will miss the January 2010 deadline he had set earlier for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Obama had earlier described the military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center as "an enormous failure" during his election campaign last year, and had announced plans to close down the center by the beginning of this year shortly after he took office in January.
In interviews given to various U.S. news agencies on Wednesday, Obama said that he was not disappointed at missing the set deadline as he knew closing down the detention center would be hard. Though he did not set a new deadline for closing down the camp, Obama expressed hopes that it would be possible by late 2010.
Obama said his plans to close the detention center was hurt by the deep-rooted fear among the American public that Guantanamo was critical to keep terrorists out of the United States. Pointing out that the move to close the facility was facing technical difficulties, Obama stressed that any progress in this regard would depend upon the co-operation from the Congress.
In May, the U.S. Congress blocked funds requested by the Obama administration for closing down the detention center, stating that a clear plan for closure of the camp must be presented to the Congress before it approves the requested funds.
Following the Congress decision, Obama administration announced that military trials of some detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center would be shifted to courts in the U.S. The trials would be restarted with some changes that would give improved legal rights to the detainees facing the military commissions.
The improved rights of detainees include a ban on hearsay evidence and on the statements obtained through "cruel, inhuman and degrading" interrogation methods, including water-boarding. The new changes also protect detainees who refuse to testify and provide them more freedom in choosing their own military counsel.
The process of trying some detainees in U.S. courts has already begun, with Attorney General Eric Holder announcing last week that the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and four other defendants would face trial in a New York federal court.
In the meantime, the U.S. administration have made efforts to convince other countries in accepting some of the Guantanamo Bay inmates. Washington fears that the detainees could face persecution or torture if sent back to their home countries, and is seeking third countries to take in some of the detainees.
While some EU states have already accepted their own nationals from Guantanamo, Albania, France, Sweden and Britain have accepted several detainees that are not their nationals. Germany has said that it will accept detainees who pose no security risk and have some "connection" with Germany.
Though the U.S. authorities have released more than 525 detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison since 2002, some 244 detainees still remain in the detention camp, which was opened in late 2001 at a US naval base in Cuba soon after the 9/11 terror attacks.
by RTT Staff Writer
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