White House near decision to close Gitmo
White House near decision to close Gitmo
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer 6 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is nearing a
decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility
and move the terror suspects there to military prisons
elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.
President Bush's national security and legal advisers
are expected to discuss the move at the White House on
Friday and, for the first time, it appears a consensus
is developing, senior administration officials said
The advisers will consider a proposal to shut the
center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense
Department facilities, including the maximum security
military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where
they could face trial, said the officials. They spoke
on condition of anonymity because they were discussing
Officials familiar with the agenda of the Friday
meeting said Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert
Gates, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Homeland
Security chief Michael Chertoff, National Intelligence
Director Mike McConnell and Joint Chiefs of Staff
chairman Gen. Peter Pace were expected to attend.
It was not immediately clear if the meeting would
result in a final recommendation to Bush.
Previous plans to close Guantanamo have run into
resistance from Cheney, Gonzales and former Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But officials said the new
suggestion is gaining momentum with at least tacit
support from the State and Homeland Security
departments, the Pentagon, and the Intelligence
Cheney's office and the Justice Department have been
dead set against the step, arguing that moving
"unlawful" enemy combatant suspects to the U.S. would
give them undeserved legal rights.
They could still block the proposal, but pressure to
close Guantanamo has been building since a Supreme
Court decision last year that found a previous system
for prosecuting enemy combatants illegal. Recent
rulings by military judges threw out charges against
two terrorism suspects under a new tribunal scheme.
Those decisions have dealt a blow to the
administration's efforts to begin prosecuting dozens
of Guantanamo detainees regarded as the nation's most
dangerous terror suspects.
In Congress, recently introduced legislation would
require Guantanamo's closure. One measure would
designate Fort Leavenworth as the new detention
Another bill would grant new rights to those held at
Guantanamo Bay, including access to lawyers regardless
of whether the prisoners are put on trial. Still
another would allow detainees to protest their
detentions in federal court, something they are now
Gates, who took over the Pentagon after Rumsfeld was
forced out last year, has said Congress and the
administration should work together to allow the U.S.
to permanently imprison some of the more dangerous
Guantanamo Bay detainees elsewhere so the facility can
Military officials told Congress this month that the
prison at Fort Leavenworth has 70 open beds and that
the brig at a naval base in Charleston, S.C., has
space for an additional 100 prisoners.
The Guantanamo Bay prison, where some 380 alleged
terrorists are now detained, has been a flash point
for criticism of the Bush administration at home and
abroad. It was set up in 2002 to house terror suspects
captured in military operations, mostly in
Because the facility is in Cuba, the administration
has argued that detainees there are not covered by
rights and protections afforded to those in U.S.
Human rights advocates and foreign leaders have
repeatedly called for its closure, and the prison is
regarded by many as proof of U.S. double standards on
fundamental freedoms in the war on terrorism.
Some of the detainees come from countries that are
U.S. allies, including Britain, Saudi Arabia and
Australia. Each of those governments raised complaints
about the conditions or duration of detentions, or
about the possibility that detainees might face death
Rice has said she would like to see Guantanamo closed
if a safe alternative could be found. She said during
a trip to Spain this month that "the United States
doesn't have any desire to be the world's jailer."
"I don't think anyone wants to see Guantanamo open one
day longer than it is needed. But I also suspect
nobody wants to see a number of dangerous people
simply released out onto the streets," she said.
On Thursday, two Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Alcee
Hastings of Florida and Sen. Benjamin Cardin of
Maryland, told a human rights commission that
Guantanamo must be closed if the United States is to
regain credibility and authority on human rights.
"The damage done to the United States goes beyond
undermining our status as a global leader on human
rights," Cardin said. "Our policies and practices
regarding Guantanamo and other aspects of our detainee
policies have undermined our authority to engage in
the effective counter-terrorism measures that are
necessary for the very security of this country."
Officials say that Bush, who also has said he wants to
close the facility as soon as possible, is keenly
aware of its shortcomings.
His wife, Laura, and mother, Barbara, along with Rice
and longtime adviser Karen Hughes, head of the public
diplomacy office at the State Department, have told
him that Guantanamo is a blot on the U.S. record
abroad, particularly in the Muslim world and among
Bush has said the United States first has to determine
what to do with the detainees there. The
administration says some countries have refused to
accept terror suspects from their territory.
Earlier this month, former Secretary of State Colin
Powell called for the immediate closure of the prison,
saying it posed an untenable foreign policy risk and
was irreparably harming the U.S. image abroad.
AP Diplomatic Writer Anne Gearan contributed to this report.