WASHINGTON Soon after becoming defense secretary, Robert Gates argued the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed because the international community would view any trials there as tainted, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
Instead, Gates, who became Pentagon chief in December, argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in the United States to make the proceedings more credible, the Times said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others argued against bringing detainees into the United States, and the discussion ended when President George W. Bush agreed with them, the newspaper quoted administration officials as saying.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had joined Gates in pushing for the facility to be closed, administration officials told the newspaper.
Indefinite detention and allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo, which the U.S. military denies, have tarnished the U.S. image abroad. Many countries, including U.S. allies, have urged the camp be closed.
One official said the issue may come up again if Gonzales is forced to step down because of the battle over fired U.S. attorneys.
"Let's see what happens to Gonzales," the senior administration official told the Times. "I suspect this one isn't over yet."
The newspaper said the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were recounting confidential conversations.
The United States has brought charges against just one of the 385 foreign captives at Guantanamo. Australian David Hicks, 31, has been accused of providing material support for terrorism by fighting for al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Hicks is charged under a new system of war crimes trials authorized by the U.S. Congress last year.
The United States has declared its intention to try 60 to 80 of the 385 foreign captives held at Guantanamo, including 14 "high-value" prisoners sent there in September from secret CIA prisons.
Some administration lawyers oppose bringing the captives into the United States because that would give them more constitutional and statutory rights, the newspaper said.
The Bush administration has insisted it needs to hold and try suspects at Guantanamo as part of its war against terrorism launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States.