Washington Stymied by Congress so far, the White House is considering issuing an executive order to indefinitely imprison a small number of Guantanamo Bay detainees considered too dangerous to prosecute or release, two administration officials said Friday.
No final decisions have been made about the order, which would be the fourth major mandate by President Barack Obama to deal with how the United States treats and prosecutes terror suspects and foreign fighters.
One of the officials said the order, if issued, would not take effect until after the Oct. 1 start of the upcoming 2010 fiscal year. Already, Congress has blocked the administration from spending any money this year to imprison the detainees in the United States — which in turn could slow or even halt Obama’s pledge to close the Navy prison in Cuba by Jan. 21.
The administration also is considering asking Congress to pass new laws that would allow the indefinite detentions, the official said.
Both of the officials spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the still-tentative issue publicly. The possibility of an executive order was first reported by ProPublica and The Washington Post.
“A number of options are being considered,” said one of the officials.
Asked if the detainees would be indefinitely held overseas or in the United States, the official said: “There’s not really a lot of options overseas.”
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Washington office, says the organization strongly opposes any plans for indefinite detention of prisoners.
“We’re saying it shouldn’t be done at all,” he said Friday.
Without legislative backing, an executive order is the only route Obama has to get the needed authority.
In a statement Friday night, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt that Congress would approve funding for transferring or imprisoning detainees in the U.S. without detailed plans on how it would work.
Lawmakers this month blocked $80 million the Obama administration had requested for transferring the detainees. Without the money, Obama’s order can’t be carried out.
“Bipartisan majorities of Congress and the American people oppose closing Guantanamo without a plan, and several important questions remain unanswered,” McConnell said.