Video: What to do about Gitmo

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/30/2006 7:35:45 PM ET 2006-06-30T23:35:45

Government lawyers met Friday in Washington, trying to figure out how to come up with some way to put detainees at Guantanamo Bay on trial now that the Supreme Court has struck down the military commissions set up by the president.

So what now? Should Guantanamo be shut down? Yes, say some advocates for the detainees, who argue that conditions there are deplorable.

But retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has been to Guantanamo, says some prisoners there are dangerous and need to be confined, and that it's now more humanely operated.

"I think the Guantanamo detention operation is one of the most firm, professional and humane operations I've ever encountered," McCaffrey says.

So how should the detainees be tried? The government has identified about 80 it wants to charge and put on trial.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has already introduced a bill to revive military commissions — an idea the Bush administration favors — worried that ordinary military courts would give detainees too much access to classified information.

But human rights lawyers say trial by ordinary court-martial would be more fair and more respected worldwide.

"The way that has the most legitimacy, both domestically and internationally, is through the courts-martial system, and that's what ought to happen here," says human rights lawyer Elisa Massimino.

But what about the other detainees no longer considered a threat?

Most are from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen. But in some cases, the U.S. fears sending detainees home could subject them to torture. And for dozens of other detainees, who left home and went to Afghanistan to fight, their native countries don't want them back.

"It's their internal politics as well as a question of security," says Pierre Prosper, a former war crimes ambassador. "Some of these countries would rather have the United States deal with the problem, the security threat that these individuals pose."

For now, the administration wants to wait to see what fixes Congress can come up with, delaying any trials for months.

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