Joint Chiefs chairman: Close Guantanamo
Joint Chiefs chairman: Close Guantanamo
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer Sun Jan 13, 7:58
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The chief of the
U.S. military said Sunday he favors closing the prison
here as soon as possible because he believes negative
publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist
suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of
the United States.
"I'd like to see it shut down," Adm. Mike Mullen said
in an interview with three reporters who toured the
detention center with him on his first visit since
becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last
His visit came two days after the sixth anniversary of
the prison's opening in January 2002. He stressed that
a closure decision was not his to make and that he
understands there are numerous complex legal questions
the administration believes would have to be settled
first, such as where to move prisoners.
The admiral also noted that some of Guantanamo Bay's
prisoners are deemed high security threats. During a
tour of Camp Six, which is a high-security facility
holding about 100 prisoners, Mullen got a firsthand
look at some of the cells; one prisoner glared at
Mullen through his narrow cell window as U.S. officers
explained to the Joint Chiefs chairman how they
maintain almost-constant watch over each prisoner.
Mullen, whose previous visit was in December 2005 as
head of the U.S. Navy, noted that President Bush and
Defense Secretary Robert Gates also have spoken
publicly in favor of closing the prison. But Mullen
said he is unaware of any active discussion in the
administration about how to do it.
"I'm not aware that there is any immediate
consideration to closing Guantanamo Bay," Mullen said.
Asked why he thinks Guantanamo Bay, commonly dubbed
Gitmo, should be closed, and the prisoners perhaps
moved to U.S. soil, Mullen said, "More than anything
else it's been the image how Gitmo has become around
the world, in terms of representing the United
Critics have charged that detainees have been
mistreated in some cases and that the legal conditions
of their detentions are not consistent with the rule
"I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects
on us that it's been pretty damaging," Mullen said,
speaking in a small boat that ferried him to and from
the detention facilities across a glistening bay.
He said he was encouraged to hear from U.S. officers
here that the prison population has shrunk by about
100 over the past year, to 277. At one time the
population exceeded 600. Hundreds have been returned
to their home countries but U.S. officials say some
are such serious security threats that they cannot be
released for the foreseeable future. Only four are
currently facing military trials after being formally
charged with crimes.
Mullen also walked through an almost-completed
top-security courtroom where the military expects to
hold trials beginning this spring for the 14
"high-value" terror suspects who had previously been
held at secret CIA prisons abroad. He was told that
audio of the proceedings might be piped to locations
in the United States where families of the Sept. 11
terror attacks, and perhaps others, could hear them.
Mullen's predecessor, retired Air Force Gen. Richard
Myers, is a defendant in a lawsuit by four British men
who allege they were systematically tortured
throughout their two years of detention at this remote
outpost. On Friday a federal appeals court in
Washington ruled against the four men.
It was six years ago that Guantanamo Bay received its
first prisoners, suspected terrorists picked up on the
battlefields of Afghanistan as the Taliban government
was being ousted from power.
The facility is on land leased from the Cuban
government under terms of a long-term deal that
predates the rule of President Fidel Castro. It is
commanded by Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby.
Gates, at a Dec. 21 news conference at the Pentagon,
noted the administration's failure to settle the
"I think that the principal obstacle has been
resolving a lot of the legal issues associated with
closing Guantanamo and what you do with the prisoners
when they come back (to the United States)," Gates
"Because of some of these legal concerns some of
which are shared by people in both parties on Capitol
Hill there has not been much progress in this
respect," he added.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the
Bush administration considered Guantanamo Bay a
suitable place to hold men suspected of links to the
Taliban and al-Qaida, contending that U.S. laws do not
apply there because Guantanamo is not part of the
United States. Lawyers for the detainees have
challenged that interpretation ever since.
Before he finished his Guantanmo Bay visit and flew to
Key West, Fla., Mullen got a look at a site on the
eastern shore of Guantanamo Bay opposite the
terrorist detention center where the U.S. military
is building a new refugee camp that would be used in
the event of a sudden, major influx of refugees in the
area. Initially the camp will be designed to hold
10,000 refugees and is scheduled to be finished by June.