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With Guantanamo Set to Close, Questions Remain Over Where to Send Detainees

President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects within a year. An NPR reporter discusses the plan and what may happen next to the facility's detainees.

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    For a look at the remaining inmates and how the Pentagon and Justice Department might go about implementing the president's executive order, I'm joined by Jackie Northam, national security correspondent for National Public Radio.

    And, Jackie, how many prisoners are still held at Guantanamo? And where are they from?

  • JACKIE NORTHAM, National Public Radio:

    The Pentagon actually never gives you a direct number as to how many are still there, but it's roughly 250 prisoners remaining. Over 500 or roughly 500 have actually been released.

    The ones that are still there now, they are mostly from Yemen. There's a scattering, you know, from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and that type of thing, but really the bulk of the remaining detainees are from Yemen right now.


    Did the president's announcement today make it clear whether some subset of these remaining prisoners would be tried and how they would be and where they would be transported in the United States?


    Well, those are all the big questions that are going to have to get thrashed out. At this point, everything is under review right now.

    There are a group of prisoners — again, roughly about 60 — who have already been cleared for release. And the problem is, nobody — no countries have wanted to take them, whether it be their home country or perhaps a third country. Nobody's stepped up to the plate.

    And, in some cases, some of these detainees, the U.S. has been very reluctant and the Bush administration has been very reluctant to send them back to some of their home countries fearing that they might be persecuted or that.

    Then you have about another 160 detainees, and these are the ones that — they're probably going to try them, but how they go about that is the really big question. Under what legal system should they try them? Should it be, you know, under the military system, the military courts martial? Should it be using federal courts? If they did either of those, the systems would have to be tinkered with slightly.

    The other option that keeps coming up more and more that you hear about is forming national security or terrorism courts, if you like. That would require legislation, which would take time.

    At this point, though, it is not clear how they are going to prosecute the men or, for that matter, where they're going to detain them. The president has given one year for this process to take place, and he said at that point, if they're still at Guantanamo, they're coming on to the mainland.