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Top U.S. military officer pushes Guantanamo closing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer on Sunday pushed for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison despite rising resistance in Congress, saying it serves as a “recruiting symbol” for America’s enemies.

Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and President Barack Obama stand for the national anthem during the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 25, 2009. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, rallied behind President Barack Obama’s move to close the detention facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, which is operated by the U.S. military.

“Well, the concern I’ve had about Guantanamo in these wars is it has been a symbol -- and one which has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us. ... That’s at the heart of the concern for Guantanamo’s continued existence,” Mullen said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Well, I’ve advocated for a long time now that it needs to be closed. President Obama made a decision very early after his inauguration to do that by next January. And we’re all working very hard to meet that deadline,” Mullen added.

Obama on Thursday laid out his case for closing the prison, saying he was trying to clean up a legal “mess” he inherited from former President George W. Bush, who opened the facility in 2002. Many critics, including some close U.S. allies, have condemned prison, with saying torture has been used there.

In a vigorous defense of the Guantanamo prison that same day, former Vice President Dick Cheney assailed what he called “this recruitment tool theory” that U.S. treatment of foreign terrorism suspects held there has helped al Qaeda and other U.S. enemies attract new members.

“It’s another version of that same old refrain from the left, ‘We brought it on ourselves,’” Cheney said on Thursday.

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Republican Senator Jon Kyl, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” embraced Cheney’s view. “I think it’s palpably false to suggest that the existence of Gitmo created terrorists. And yet the president gets away with (saying) that,” Kyl said.

The U.S. Senate last week dealt a blow to Obama’s plans to close the prison, denying him $80 million he sought to shut it until he presents a detailed plan on what to do with the 240 foreign terrorism suspects held there.

Obama has run into resistance, not only from Republicans but from his fellow Democrats who control Congress.

“Whether it’s closed or not, we have to have a plan in place that outlines how we deal with the people who are incarcerated there,” Democratic Senator Ben Nelson said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Obama said Guantanamo prisoners will be tried in U.S. courts and held in super-maximum-security U.S. prisons while others could be tried by in special military trials, but his speech on the issue left many questions unanswered.

“I don’t know why it is better to have somebody in a so-called super max facility in, say, Colorado, than it is to keep them in Guantanamo, a state of the art facility that we built not too long ago for the explicit purpose of holding these people. There’s nothing wrong with the prison at Gitmo,” Kyl said.

Editing by Sandra Maler