Any last vestiges of doubt that President Barack Obama had abandoned entirely on his election pledge to close down Guantanamo Bay evaporated last night as he gave the green light for military trials there to resume and laid down the rules for holding some of the detainees inside the camp indefinitely.
In the wake of a long Pentagon review on how the tribunals should be conducted, Defence Secretary Robert Gates will now be expected to lift a ban on new trials at Guantanamo that has been in place since early 2009 when Mr Obama came to office promising to shut the infamous facility within 12 months. He contended at the time that Guantanamo served as a recruitment tool for America's terrorist enemies.
In a statement, Mr Obama strained to insist that dealing with the Guantanamo prisoners inside the regular US justice system remained his long-term preference. "I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al-Qaida and its affiliates," he said. The statement implies that he still holds hopes that some of the suspects could be brought to trial on US soil.
Yet by bringing an end to a two-hear freeze on new trials, Mr Obama is bowing to the reality that his goal of closing Guantanamo completely is forlorn, at least for now. Foreign countries have shown themselves loathe to take any of the camp's terror suspects off America's hands and the US Congress has blocked attempts at every turn either to house some of them on US soil or bring them to trial in US courthouses.
Most famously, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, was forced last year to reverse plans to bring the main 9/11 suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to the US to stand trial in a New York courtroom just blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. The first to rebel were city officials in New York. There was no mention of Sheikh Mohammed or any of the 9/11 plotters in last night's orders.
The White House also acknowledged last night that a group of suspects remain inside Guantanamo who have neither been charged nor convicted but who are considered too dangerous for release and thus could be there indefinitely.
New arrangements will be introduced, however, to ensure these detainees will be assured regular reviews of their cases for which they will be given access to legal advice.
"The periodic review established by this order will help to ensure that individuals who we have determined will be subject to long-term detention continue to be detained only when lawful and necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States," the White House said.
Human rights groups voiced disappointment. "The Obama administration has chosen to institutionalise unlawful, indefinite detentions and to revive illegitimate military commissions, which will do nothing to remove the stain on America's reputation that Guantanamo represents," Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, told Reuters news agency.Reuse content