WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday that will create a formal system of indefinite detention for those held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who continue to pose a significant threat to national security. The administration also said it will restart military commission trials for detainees there.
The announcements, coming more than two years after Obama vowed in another executive order to close the detention center, all but cements Guantanamo Bay's continuing role in U.S. counterterrorism policy.
Administration officials said the president is still committed to closing the prison, though he made no mention of that goal in a short statement Monday. Congress has blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States for trial.
Activists on either end of the debate over closing the prison cast the announcement as a reversal.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called it "a complete about-face." Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the order vindicated the Bush administration's approach.
The executive order applies to at least 48 of the 172 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay. An inter-agency panel led by Justice Department lawyers determined that this group could not be prosecuted in military commissions or in federal court because evidentiary problems would hamper a trial. But intelligence assessments also concluded that these detainees remain a serious threat and could not be safely repatriated or resettled in a third country.
The administration said it will hold reviews for detainees it plans to prosecute but has not charged.
Obama also ordered a resumption of military trials for detainees who have been charged.