Bush may close Guantanamo Bay


Summary

Senior administration officials say a consensus is building to shut the centre and transfer detainees to one or more Defence Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they could face trial.

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President George W Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting on Thursdayday, the officials said.

However the White House quickly poured cold water on the news after it became public, saying no decision on Guantanamo Bay's future had been made.

"Senior officials have met on the issue in the past, and I expect they will meet on the issue in the future."

Three senior administration officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because they were internal deliberations.

High-level talks

Sources say discussions as to whether to keep the Guantanamo facility open are taking place at the highest level, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would also be involved, as well as Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and senior intelligence and military officials.

Previous plans to close Guantanamo ran into resistance from Cheney, Gonzales and former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But officials said the new suggestion was 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 against the step, arguing that moving "unlawful" enemy combatant suspects to

the US would give them undeserved legal rights.

They could block the proposal, but pressure to close Guantanamo has been building since a Supreme Court decision last year that found illegal a previous system for prosecuting enemy combatants.

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.

New legislation

In Congress, recently-introduced legislation would require Guantanamo's closure. One measure would designate Fort Leavenworth, about 50 kilometres northwest of Kansas City in northeast Kansas, as the new detention facility.

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 inmates to protest their detentions in federal court, something they are now denied.

Robert Gates, who took over the Pentagon after Mr Rumsfeld was forced out last year, has said Congress and the administration should work together to allow the US to imprison permanently some of the more dangerous Guantanamo Bay detainees elsewhere so the facility can be closed.

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 US prisons.

Clamour for closure

Human rights advocates and foreign leaders have repeatedly called for its closure, and the prison is regarded by many as proof of US double standards on fundamental freedoms in the war on terrorism.

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 Condoleeza Rice and long time adviser Karen Hughes, head of the public diplomacy office at the State Department, have told him that Guantanamo is a blot on the US 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 US image abroad.


Senior administration officials say a consensus is building to shut the centre and transfer detainees to one or more Defence Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they could face trial.

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President George W Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting on Thursdayday, the officials said.

However the White House quickly poured cold water on the news after it became public, saying no decision on Guantanamo Bay's future had been made.

"Senior officials have met on the issue in the past, and I expect they will meet on the issue in the future."

Three senior administration officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because they were internal deliberations.

High-level talks

Sources say discussions as to whether to keep the Guantanamo facility open are taking place at the highest level, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would also be involved, as well as Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and senior intelligence and military officials.

Previous plans to close Guantanamo ran into resistance from Cheney, Gonzales and former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But officials said the new suggestion was 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 against the step, arguing that moving "unlawful" enemy combatant suspects to

the US would give them undeserved legal rights.

They could block the proposal, but pressure to close Guantanamo has been building since a Supreme Court decision last year that found illegal a previous system for prosecuting enemy combatants.

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.

New legislation

In Congress, recently-introduced legislation would require Guantanamo's closure. One measure would designate Fort Leavenworth, about 50 kilometres northwest of Kansas City in northeast Kansas, as the new detention facility.

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 inmates to protest their detentions in federal court, something they are now denied.

Robert Gates, who took over the Pentagon after Mr Rumsfeld was forced out last year, has said Congress and the administration should work together to allow the US to imprison permanently some of the more dangerous Guantanamo Bay detainees elsewhere so the facility can be closed.

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 US prisons.

Clamour for closure

Human rights advocates and foreign leaders have repeatedly called for its closure, and the prison is regarded by many as proof of US double standards on fundamental freedoms in the war on terrorism.

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 Condoleeza Rice and long time adviser Karen Hughes, head of the public diplomacy office at the State Department, have told him that Guantanamo is a blot on the US 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 US image abroad.