Don't close Guantanamo until terror war ends: Cheney

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney said on Monday the military prison at Guantanamo Bay could not be responsibly closed until the U.S. war on terror is over and he defended the practice of subjecting detainees to simulated drowning during questioning.

A bird flies above the razorwire-topped fence of the "Camp Five" detention facility at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay December 10, 2008, in this image reviewed by the U.S. military. REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

Cheney, in an interview with ABC News, said he was aware of the interrogation tactics used again Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, including the practice of waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

Asked if he thought, in hindsight, any of the tactics went too far, Cheney said, “I don’t.” Questioned about whether he thought the reported use of waterboarding on Mohammed was appropriate, Cheney replied, “I do.”

The vice president was asked when the United States could responsibly close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which was set up to hold detainees in President George W. Bush’s war on terror launched after September 11.

“Well, I think that that would come with the end of the war on terror,” Cheney said, adding no one knows when that might be.

“In previous wars, we’ve always exercised the right to capture the enemy and then hold them until the end of the conflict.

“The same basic principle ought to apply here in terms of our right to capture the enemy and hold them,” Cheney said, noting that in many cases the captives’ home countries did not want them back and no other nation was willing to take them.

The vice president said Bush and many other people would like to close Guantanamo Bay but other issues had to be addressed first.

“That includes, what are you going to do with the prisoners held in Guantanamo? And nobody yet has solved that problem,” Cheney said.

The United States is holding about 250 prisoners at Guantanamo and has released or transferred out another 520.

In another interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, Cheney said Guantanamo “has been very well run” and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama would have a difficult time closing it.

“Once you go out and capture a bunch of terrorists, as we did in Afghanistan and elsewhere, then you’ve got to have some place to put them,” he said. “If you bring them here to the U.S. and put them in our local court system, then they are entitled to all kinds of rights that we extend only to American citizens. Remember, these are unlawful combatants.

“Guantanamo has been very, very valuable,” he said. “And I think they (the Obama administration) will discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition.”

Editing by Bill Trott