Bush Considers Relocating Guantanamo
- A Guantanamo detainee, center, is escorted by U.S. military personnel
on the grounds of the detention facility ...
White House Near Decision to Close Gitmo
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer
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
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 internal deliberations.
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 directorate.
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
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 denied.
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 be closed.
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 Afghanistan .
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. prisons.
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
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 European allies.
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.
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