- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sept. 11 families, divided on President Obama’s decision to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, are in Washington to offer their opinions to a Justice Department task force on issues surrounding the prison’s closure.

The 50 or so family members - some who met with the president this past winter - were told they could speak their minds as the task force collects input for a report, due July 21, on how best to close the prison facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Several oppose Mr. Obama’s decision, announced the day after his inauguration, to order the facility’s closure by Jan. 22, 2010.

“I just want them to know these terrorists are not nice people. We’re not in the revenge business, but what we do want is justice,” said Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law and infant granddaughter were killed when United Flight 175 crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower in 2001.

The families arrived for meetings with the Justice Department task force Monday evening and Tuesday as the European Union agreed to help resettle former Guantanamo detainees and as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would take three people being freed from Guantanamo.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Berlusconi while meeting with the Italian leader. “This is not just talk, Italy has agreed to accept three specific detainees,” Mr. Obama said.

Referring to another recent transfer of detainees, he added, “Bermuda has done us a great service as well on that front.”

A Justice spokesman said the task force has been meeting with lawyers, human rights groups, scholars, representatives from foreign governments, members of Congress, foreign nongovernental organizations and victims of terrorism.

“We’ve received input from all sides on this issue,” the spokesman said, adding that the variety of viewpoints is helping the task force “make more informed decisions and recommendations to the president.”

Mr. Obama has hit snags along the way, as states in the U.S. have refused to take prisoners and some foreign governments have not wanted to help.

Mr. Obama said the EU decision “will give us an opportunity to create a lasting and durable international legal framework for dealing with terrorism that I think is very important on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The EU action is a boost, and a joint statement Monday by the U.S. and the union’s member countries said Guantanamo’s closure is welcomed.

“We take note of the commitment of the United States to develop a new and more sustainable approach to security-related issues and of the thorough review of U.S. policies … [and] against this background and in the expectation that underlying policy issues will be addressed, the EU and its Member States wish to help the U.S. turn the page,” the statement read.

It also noted the U.S. will “consider contributing to the costs incurred by EU Member States in relation to receiving ex-detainees on a case-by-case basis.”

The statement also lauded “the intensive review of its detention, transfer, trial and interrogation policies in the fight against terrorism and increased transparency about past practices in regard to these policies, as well as the elimination of secret detention facilities.”

Mr. Hanson and his wife, Eunice, neither of whom attended the February White House meeting, were eager to share their views. Mr. Hanson said the Easton, Conn., couple were told they could speak freely and ask whatever questions were on their minds.

“The interesting thing to me is that, even as we speak this week, they have already taken action, and I really do believe that a mistake is being made in closing Gitmo,” he said. “It was a tough decision to make to open it up in the first place, but I always thought it was better to have these people brought to a place like that than into the United States.”

Mr. Hanson said he spoke twice to his son while his hijacked airplane was bound for lower Manhattan.

“I know what was happening and I knew what they were going through, the absolute horror of it,” he said. “Now, everything I see talks about giving rights to terrorists; I don’t know why we’re supposed to treat people trying to kill us like American citizens.”

Peter Gadiel, an outspoken critic who leads 9/11 Families for a Secure America, said he believes Mr. Obama lied to the families during their Feb. 6 meeting.

“He talked about swift and sure justice. Somehow I don’t think transporting these people to tropical islands meets that criteria,” said Mr. Gadiel, who was not invited to speak to the task force this week.

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