Detention Policy: The Executive Branch is a "They," Not an "It"

By Jack Goldsmith
Thursday, February 17, 2011, 2:39 PM

As Bobby mentioned, I’m giving a keynote address at noon tomorrow at American University’s Washington College of Law on the question, “The Guantanamo Detainees, What Next?”  In that speech I will try, among other things, to assess the significance of these five statements from senior Obama administration officials in the last two days:

  • CIA Director Leon Panetta, yesterday: “We would probably move [Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, if captured] quickly into military jurisdiction at Bagram for questioning and then, eventually, move them probably to Guantanamo.”
  • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, yesterday:  President Obama “remains committed to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, because, as our military commanders have made clear, it's a national security priority to do so. . . . I'm not going speculate about what would happen if we were to capture Osama bin Laden.”
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates, today: “The prospects for closing Guantanamo as best I can tell are very, very low given very broad opposition to doing that here in the Congress.”
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, today, when asked where the United States would send a high-level al Qaeda terrorist captured outside Iraq or Afghanistan:  “We don’t have an answer to that question.”
  • Attorney General Eric Holder, today: “Our goal is to kill or to capture Osama bin Laden. . . . If he were to be captured, we would -- the national security team would get together and would determine where appropriately he would be held.”