WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay will likely remain open for the rest of George W. Bush’s presidency because it will take time to conduct the legal proceedings of the detainees there, the White House said on Friday.
Bush’s term runs out in January 2009. He has stated publicly that he would like to see the facility closed, but now it appears unlikely to happen on his watch.
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.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said it was “highly unlikely that you can dispense with all those cases” before Bush leaves office.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later told reporters “everyone” wanted to close Guantanamo Bay but she did not know if this would happen by the end of Bush’s presidency.
”The problem is that you have a number of dangerous people who, in some cases, cannot be held, cannot be tried in other places and they are too dangerous to release. So you need to be able to deal with it in some way,“ said Rice.”
“The president has been very clear, he would like to close it, we all do,” she said. “We are all trying to work to make that a reality.”
Rice said she had spent a lot of time trying to get other countries to accept their nationals being held at Guantanamo Bay. “We need the help of the international community to be able to even contemplate closing it,” she said.
U.S. authorities sent suspects picked up in the post-September 11 war on terrorism to military custody at Guantanamo, instead of putting them into the normal American court process.
Human rights groups have long demanded that the detention facility be shut down. Two U.S. senators who visited the camp last week said allegations of mistreatment made by September 11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be investigated.
Snow, at his daily briefing for reporters, acknowledged that new Defense Secretary Robert Gates had concerns about keeping the facility open when he took over the job from Donald Rumsfeld.
He expressed his opinion to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who argued against closing the prison and moving the detainees to the United States.
“So whatever ideas the secretary of defense had coming in, when they had a discussion, he (Gates) deferred to the legal opinion of the attorney general,” Snow said.