January 22, 2009
With the stroke of a pen, President Obama will make great progress toward restoring America’s moral authority. By shutting down a global symbol of abuse, he will deprive terrorists of a powerful recruitment tool.
Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch

Update: On Thursday, January 22, President Obama signed the order setting January 2010 as the date for the final closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, suspending the use of military commissions, and putting in motion a review of all detainees' files. 

(Washington, DC) - US President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on January 22, 2009 to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Obama's decision to order Guantanamo's closure two days after taking office signals the high priority the new president places on reforming the United States' approach to curbing terrorism, Human Rights Watch said.

"With the stroke of a pen, President Obama will make great progress toward restoring America's moral authority," said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "By shutting down a global symbol of abuse, he will deprive terrorists of a powerful recruitment tool."

Human Rights Watch has obtained a draft copy of the order, which sets January 2010 as the date for the prison's final closure, suspends the use of military commissions, and puts in motion a review of the detainees' files. The review process, to be led by the attorney general, will determine which detainees can be repatriated or resettled, and which the United States should continue to hold and prosecute in federal court.

The new order reportedly will not address the question of whether the Obama administration will seek to establish a new preventive detention regime to allow it to continue to hold some of the detainees without charge in the United States. Such a system, which Human Rights Watch has urged President Obama to reject, would have the same major defects as the Guantanamo system. It would be seen as merely moving Guantanamo onshore, and would almost certainly embroil the new administration in years of legal challenges and controversy.

"The executive order will allow the Obama administration to begin a thorough and sensible process to close Guantanamo," said Daskal. "We hope and expect that by January 2010 every detainee will either be facing criminal charges in a fair process or be released."

The executive order does not resolve the fate of the Chinese Uighurs, a group of 17 men who have been cleared of the "enemy combatant" designation, but cannot be returned to China due to credible fears that they would be tortured upon return. In October 2008, a US federal court ordered the Bush administration to admit these men into the United States.

Members of the Uighur community in the United States and refugee resettlement groups promised to provide the men with housing, and language and job training. But the Bush administration appealed the ruling, and the men have not yet been admitted to the United States.

"President Obama has laid out a long-overdue plan for closing Guantanamo," said Daskal. "He should jump-start the process by agreeing to resettle the Uighurs in the United States."