WASHINGTON – Obama administration officials are drafting an executive order that would set up a review process for detainees held indefinitely at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the White House said Wednesday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the draft executive order, which has not been sent to President Barack Obama, is in line with procedures Obama broadly described in a May 2009 speech about detainees who would be held indefinitely at that military prison.
"We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category," Obama said at the time. "We must have fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified."
The draft was first reported Tuesday night in a story posted on the website of The Washington Post.
Such an order would be further acknowledgment by Obama that his campaign promise to close Guantanamo Bay will remain unfulfilled for the foreseeable future. The president has long said that some terrorist suspects would be held indefinitely, but he has added that he hoped that would be on U.S. soil.
By setting up a review process for detainees at Guantanamo by executive order, the president could make indefinite detention somewhat more palatable to liberal voters who adamantly oppose it. An executive order also would allow Obama to avoid Congress, which has shown increasing reluctance to follow Obama's lead on Guantanamo issues.
Both the House and Senate have approved legislation that would bar Guantanamo detainees from being brought to the United State for trial.
Gibbs declined to discuss specifics of the executive order on Wednesday, saying the administration had "not even begun the process of a deputies committee meeting."
"I do not think it is or it should be surprising to many, off of the speech that he gave in May of 2009, that there are going to be those . that are currently in Guantanamo Bay that for whatever reason are not going to be able to be tried in either a federal court or in a military commission that are, that are going to have to be indefinitely detained," he said.
Reports of the plan to hold some detainees indefinitely drew swift opposition from rights groups.
In a statement, The Center for Constitutional Rights argued that Guantanamo detainees need to be tried in federal court or released.
"There is no legitimate third category of individuals who can be held indefinitely without perpetuating the egregious abuses of that island-prison, further damaging our democratic institutions and threatening our collective safety," the group said.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.