By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
July 24, 2009 - Plans to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within President Barack Obama's one-year time frame are on track, the Pentagon's top lawyer said today. The military held about 240 detainees at the center when Obama pledged days after his inauguration in January to close the facility. Since then, the interagency group assigned to reviewing the cases has made recommendations on more than half, including approving the transfer of more than 50 detainees to other countries, Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department general counsel, told the House Armed Services Committee in a prepared statement.
"Additional reviews are ongoing, and the process is on track,", Johnson said. "We remain committed to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within the one-year time frame ordered by the president."
Obama announced plans for the closure of Guantanamo Bay as part of a series of executive orders signed Jan. 22. That legislation created two task forces, one of which is responsible for going file by file through each detainee at Guantanamo Bay, making decisions about how to render justice consistent with U.S. laws and values.
The groups comprise officials from the departments of Justice, Defense, State, and Homeland Security, and from the U.S. military and intelligence community.
White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs this week said a request for a six-month extension for a task force progress report on interrogation policies would not delay the closure. "The task forces and the president believe we continue to make progress and can meet the goal of closing Guantanamo Bay in a year," he said in a July 21 news conference.
Addressing Congress, Johnson said the panel has made progress on another presidential directive issued in May: reforming military commissions, the process through which detainees are tried in U.S. military courts.
Echoing Obama's call to reform the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Johnson said he welcomes the opportunity to help change military commissions into a more viable forum.
"By working to improve military commissions to make the process more fair and credible, we enhance our national security by providing the government with effective alternatives for bringing to justice those international terrorists who violate the law of war," he said.
Under the Senate's recent Defense Authorization Act, several provisions were made to reform the 2006 legislation. Johnson expressed confidence in the ability of the Obama administration and Congress to continue working together to improve the law.
"Military commissions can emerge from this effort as a fully legitimate forum," he said.
The new legislation proposes changes that ban in-court use of statements obtained by cruel interrogation methods, which Johnson said will "go a long way towards improving the process."