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Joint Chiefs chairman: Close Guantanamo

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080114/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/guantanamo_joint_chiefs;_ylt=AmkYBpyKPv9IbTE701kgEDis0NUE Joint Chiefs chairman: Close Guantanamo By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 13, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080114/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/guantanamo_joint_chiefs;_ylt=AmkYBpyKPv9IbTE701kgEDis0NUE

      Joint Chiefs chairman: Close Guantanamo

      By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer Sun Jan 13, 7:58
      PM ET

      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
      October.

      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
      States."

      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
      of law.

      "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
      closure debate.

      "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
      said.

      "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.
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