US struggles with shutting down Guantanamo
Washington, June 23, 2007
After insisting for years the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay was vital to national security, US officials are now trying to shut it down but are having trouble coming up with a plan to do it.
The new push to reach a resolution to the detention center at the US military base in Cuba comes largely in response to international criticism that Guantanamo Bay has become an indelible stain on America's human rights image.
'We fully and acutely recognise that Guantanamo has become a lightning rod for criticism around the world, and this is something of deep concern to this administration and to Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice in particular,' State Department legal adviser John Bellinger said in congressional testimony.
White House spokeswoman Dano Perino said: 'A lot of very smart people are working on that issue, trying to figure out a way that we could close Guantanamo in a way that makes sure that those who are there are held securely and that they are treated humanely.'
President George W Bush's detainee policy -- as well as his broad assertions of executive power in the war on terrorism -- has been facing stiff challenges in US courts and by Democrats who control the US Congress.
Bush would like to clear up the Guantanamo issue and what to do about the 375 suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban followers held there before leaving office in January 2009 and remove it as an issue for his successor, amid a host of opinions from presidential candidates on what to do about it.
Democrats generally want to close it, while Republicans would keep the facility. Former Massachusetts Republican Gov Mitt Romney told a presidential debate last month he would double the size of it.
Pressure to do something soon is intense. Colin Powell, who was secretary of state during Bush's first term, told NBC's 'Meet the Press' this month he would close it, 'not tomorrow, but this afternoon.'
Closing the facility is easier said than done. Administration officials have been discussing it for months but have yet to come up with a suitable arrangement.
The problem is some foreign governments do not want to take their foreign nationals being held at the prison.
'I would submit to you that the countries who have complained more vehemently about the human rights record, alleged abuses of human rights at Guantanamo Bay, are the very ones who refuse to take any prisoners themselves,' Perino said.
Bringing them to the US to stand trial raises the questions of what rights the suspects would have and whether they would be able to seek political asylum once they served prison time in order to avoid being sent back home.
Plus, administration officials worry Americans would not want suspected terrorists sent to their towns and cities no matter what type of security guarantees are offered.
Human rights groups and many Democrats have demanded the US bring the detainees to US soil to stand trial in US courts. Perino said she was not aware of any plans to bring Guantanamo detainees to the US.
'I cannot believe that the American federal prison system cannot try 380 people,' said Rep Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat.
Human Rights Watch said the continued detention of hundreds of men without charge undermined US efforts to end terrorism.
'Guantanamo has hurt the US far more than it has hurt its enemies,' said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch.
'Its closure would help restore the moral authority America needs to effectively fight terrorism and promote the rule of law.' Reuters