WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners could be released into the United States while others could be put on trial in the American court system, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday.
Holder, who was chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the administration’s efforts to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba within a year, said the review of what to do with each of the prisoners had begun.
About 240 terrorism suspects, including suspected planners of the September 11 attacks, are being held in the prison. Many have been detained for seven years without charges and some were subjected to interrogation techniques denounced by critics as torture.
The administration faces intense political resistance to the idea of bringing the prisoners to the United States as part of closing the detention camp. The administration seeks to transfer some detainees to Europe or other countries while freeing others.
Holder told reporters at the Justice Department that the administration’s review, made on a case-by-case basis, would determine whether the prisoners need to be put on trial or whether they can be released.
“For those who are in that second category, who can be released, there are a variety of options that we have. Among them is the possibility that we could release them into this country,” he said.
Holder said it was possible the 17 Chinese Muslims who have been held for years at Guantanamo, and two or three others prisoners, could be freed in the United States.
The 17 members of the Uighur ethic group have been cleared for release but have nonetheless remained at Guantanamo while the United States tries to find a country willing to take them. The U.S. government has said it cannot return them to China because they would face persecution there.
“We’ve been trying to come up with places for them,” Holder said of the Uighurs. Their lawyers have asked Obama to bring them to the United States.
Holder met earlier this week with European Union leaders, and urged them to take some of the Guantanamo prisoners. They questioned why they should take some of the detainees if the United States does not make similar efforts to take some.
The European leaders asked for the information the United States has on the prisoners, including details about their backgrounds.
Holder called that a reasonable request and said making the information available to the European countries could help ease their concerns.
He said the administration was looking at the possibility of putting some of the Guantanamo prisoners on trial in U.S. courts. “My guess is that some of those people would be tried in” the U.S. court system, he said.
Editing by Deborah Charles and Cynthia Osterman