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Page last updated at 16:59 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 17:59 UK

US terror policy report delayed

Inmate at Guantanamo Bay
Guantanamo Bay has drawn widespread international criticism

A key report on the detention of terrorism suspects ordered by US President Barack Obama will be delayed by six months, officials have said.

Mr Obama commissioned the report as part of his efforts to close the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay by the beginning of next year.

Analysts say this delay raises doubts about his ability to meet the deadline.

Officials attributed it to the need to ensure the review was comprehensive and to consult thoroughly with Congress.

They said another report on the interrogation of suspects and their transfer to other countries would be delayed by two months.

However, a task force did send an interim report setting out legal goals for handling terrorism suspects in the future.

READ THE INTERIM REPORT

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"Where appropriate, prosecution of those responsible must occur as soon as possible, whether in federal court or before a military commission," the interim report said.

It also said justice could not prevail unless suspects were proved guilty "in a court of law that affords them a full and fair opportunity to contest the charges against them".

'Get this right'

The reports were ordered in the wake of Mr Obama's announcement that he would close the Guantanamo Bay prison by 22 January 2010. Administration officials say that this deadline still holds.

But, reports the BBC's Jane O'Brien in Washington, there are still a number of major problems - what to do with the remaining detainees being the biggest.

Fewer than 20 out of about 245 inmates have been transferred from the detention centre in the six months since Mr Obama signed an order to close it within a year, the Associated Press news agency reports.

We want to get this right and not to have another multiple years of uncertainty around these issues
Unnamed Obama administration official

More than 50 inmates have been cleared for transfer overseas. Mr Obama has said others will be tried by modified military commissions or in US courts.

But some cannot be returned to their home countries because of concern they will be tortured - and finding countries prepared to take them has proved difficult.

There is also the question of those who cannot be prosecuted under existing legal structures, yet who are deemed too dangerous for release.

Avoiding uncertainty

The administration is open to the possibility of indefinitely holding these detainees, but says it needs a new legal system to authorise this.

In Washington lawmakers from both parties have opposed the idea of transferring detainees to US soil.

Congress has asked the administration for a detailed plan on how Guantanamo will be shut before it releases funds for its closure.

Administration officials said delays over submitting reports were granted to conduct reviews that were as thorough as possible.

One unnamed official was quoted as saying the administration wanted to present a plan with "legal foundation".

"We want to get this right and not to have another multiple years of uncertainty around these issues," the official said.

The Guantanamo Bay detention centre was set up in January 2002 to hold suspects deemed to be "enemy combatants".

Human rights groups and some foreign governments have long criticised the prison.

US MEDIA REACTION TO THE POSTPONEMENT

While publicly saying they remain committed to next January's deadline [for the closure of Guantanamo], officials privately acknowledge that a host of political and diplomatic problems-including the reluctance of foreign countries to accept detainees and fierce opposition from members of Congress to moving them to the United States-has made closing the facility far more daunting than they had anticipated.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff finds out what officials are saying behind the scenes about the postponement.

The report falls well short of providing a comprehensive strategy for detaining and trying terrorists and suspected terrorists captured abroad. For example, the report's authors say they would prefer to use the federal courts to try detainees, but military commissions are still on the table for some detainees. This is hardly earth-shattering progress.

Thomas Joscelyn, of the Weekly Standard, is unimpressed with the report.

The detention policy review task force released a fairly anodyne preliminary report on the criteria by which all remaining un-statused Guantanamo prisoners would be referred to for prosecution. Pointedly, it leaves open other avenues, such as (and it doesn't explicitly say this) indefinite detention without trial.

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder spots the administration's loophole.

Manifestly, [the preliminary report] isn't about anything other than institutionalizing what has clearly emerged as the central premise of the Obama Justice System: picking and choosing what level of due process each individual accused terrorist is accorded, to be determined exclusively by what process ensures that the state will always win.

Glenn Greewald, of Salon.com, does not like the direction in which the Obama administration is taking detainee policy.



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