Oh, So That’s the Fifth Category of Detentions

November 18, 2009 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

As long as I’m praising Marc “I Won The Morning” Ambinder, check out this rather significant data point he mines from a Washington Post story on the final dispensation of Guantanamo detainees:

Administration officials say they expect that as many as 40 of the 215 detainees at Guantanamo will be tried in federal court or military commissions. About 90 others have been cleared for repatriation or resettlement in a third country, and about 75 more have been deemed too dangerous to release but cannot be prosecuted because of evidentiary issues and limits on the use of classified material.

My emphasis. As Marc writes, that sounds a lot like the administration will just simply hold them in legal limbo, as per the so-called “Fifth Category” of detentions outlined by President Obama in his May speech at the National Archives. Adam Serwer wrote a great piece on how that category of detainees has roiled the civil liberties community.

Now, the Obama administration has subsequently stated that it’s not going to seek any additional authority from Congress for such preventive detention. But that doesn’t solve the problem of what becomes of those detainees. Will the courts ultimately decide that the administration doesn’t, in fact, have the power to hold them without charge? And where will they be held if Guantanamo is to close? After all, if they’re moved into the United States, the courts will almost certainly exercise jurisdiction over them.

A possible clue comes in a recent and widely discussed report from Ken Gude of the well-connected Center for American Progress. As my colleague Daphne Eviatar reported, Gude proposed simply sending the detainees to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan — which would, in effect, create Neo-Guantanamo. There has been a lot of discussion over whether Gude was floating a trial balloon for the administration. We may soon see.

Update: Adam corrects me on what Gude was actually proposing:

Spencer Ackerman speculates that these detainees might be sent to Bagram. That was the Bush administration’s solution for avoiding judicial scrutiny of detention, but that approach is distinct from what Ken Gude and the Center for American Progress are proposing. The CAP proposal is to send those detainees who were captured in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, and who have lost the first round of their habeas appeals, back to Bagram. Sending “fifth category” detainees captured in third countries would jeopardize the government’s position in appealing the judicial ruling that granted detainees captured in third countries and held at Bagram habeas rights.

Apologies to Ken; I appreciate the correction.