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With Changing Administrations, Future for Guantanamo Detainees Is Uncertain

With Osama Bin Laden's former driver transferred to Yemen and other inmates ordered released last week, Guantanamo Bay's prison population is decreasing as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office. Two lawyers assess what's next for the facility.

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    Salim Hamdan is reportedly en route from the Guantanamo Bay prison to his homeland of Yemen. Hamdan is only one of two Guantanamo detainees to be convicted by U.S. military tribunal, and another 250 remain in prison.

    Two weeks ago, President-elect Obama reaffirmed his campaign promise to shut down the Guantanamo prison, but did not spell out what would happen to the detainees. Only 21 have been formally charged, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11.

    Other detainees include a group of 17 Chinese Muslims and 100 Yemenis captured in Afghanistan or the Middle East and moved to Guantanamo.

    To take up the question of what next for Guantanamo and its detainees, we go to Neal Katyal, an attorney for Hamdan and a professor at Georgetown University Law School, and Charles Stimson, the former deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs. He's now a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

    Welcome to both of you.

    What is the significance of your client being sent back to Yemen?

  • NEAL KATYAL, Georgetown University:

    Well, it's premature for me to say, of course. I don't even have confirmation that he has landed or he's even en route to Yemen.


    You don't have confirmation?


    No, I just have the same press reports that you do. So it's premature at this point to say.

    But I do think that, if he lands in Yemen and if he is released at the end of his sentence, that it will be a significant step forward in the ending of Guantanamo as we know it.


    Do you see significance there?

  • CHARLES STIMSON, Heritage Foundation:

    I see some significance and no significance. It certainly closes a chapter with respect to Mr. Hamdan himself.

    And I've been encouraging the administration for some time now to make a broader policy announcement that they should allow detainees to go home once they've served their criminal sentence.

    But I think Neal is probably right…


    In this case, he didn't quite reach the end of his sentence.


    I think he has a month to go. And it's my understanding from press reports that he would serve out the remainder of his sentence in Yemen and then be free to move about.

    But Neal's right. I mean, this is yet another brick falling, signifying the beginning of the end of the detention facility at Gitmo.