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Homeland Security

Interview: Problems in Closing Guantanamo Detention Camp

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
Interviewee: Matthew C. Waxman, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Law and Foreign Policy

December 18, 2008

Matthew C. Waxman, who from 2004 to 2005 served in the Pentagon as deputy secretary of defense for detainee affairs, says the controversial detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay should be closed but that doing so will trigger several important questions. "The path to closing Guantanamo will involve some combination of sending some detainees to their home country and bringing some of them to the United States for prosecution," he says. When Barack Obama becomes president, Waxman says, he should "declare emphatically his intention to close Guantanamo, though he should do so with some caution as to how quickly he can do it." Referring to the prosecutions currently under way, Waxman says al-Qaeda seems to be winning the propaganda battle with the United States "with little effort and a not very sophisticated strategy."

You've had a good deal of experience working on the problems surrounding the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Can you give a sense of how this whole detention center got set up in the first place?

After 9/11 and especially after the initial phases of the war in Afghanistan, the United States and its coalition partners were capturing, holding, and wanting to interrogate a large number of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and needed a place to do it. Initially, Guantanamo served two functions: one was as a secure detention facility, a place far from the front lines of battle that the United States could control and secure relatively easily. In addition, Guantanamo served an intelligence mission. The belief was that some of the most important information the United States and its partners needed to glean, analyze, integrate, and then utilize, was inside the heads of those it was capturing, so-called human intelligence.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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