WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close Guantanamo, has drafted an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.
Such an order would embrace claims by former President George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. But Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place him on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.
After months of internal debate over how to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, White House officials are growing increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may prove impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the facility by the president's January deadline.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt did not directly respond to questions about an executive order but said the administration would address the cases of Guantanamo detainees in a manner "consistent with the national security interests of the United States and the interests of justice."
One administration official suggested the White House was already trying to build support for an executive order. The official, speaking to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration to seek a prolonged detention system through executive order. Such an order could be rescinded and would not block later efforts to write legislation, but civil liberties groups generally oppose long-term detention, arguing that detainees should either be prosecuted or released.
The Justice Department has declined to comment on a long-term detention system while reviews of detainees are under way. The reviews are expected to be completed by July 21.