U.S. News

Top officer would like Guantanamo shut down

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - The top U.S. military officer said on Sunday he would like to see the detention center at Guantanamo Bay closed because its image has damaged America’s international standing.

“I’d like to see it shut down,” said Adm. Mike Mullen. “I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us that it’s been pretty damaging.”

But Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said closing the prison posed major legal problems.

“There are enormous challenges associated with that,” he said. “There are enormously complex, complicating legal issues that are way out of my purview.”

Many governments, including close U.S. allies, have urged Washington to shut the detention center for terrorism suspects, which took in its first inmates almost exactly six years ago.

Since then, only one prisoner has been convicted through the system of war crimes tribunals set up to try Guantanamo inmates, and that was the result of a plea bargain.

President George W. Bush and other top U.S. officials have said they would like to close the camp but only when they have found a satisfactory way to do so.

On his first visit to the jail on Cuba since taking up his post in October, Mullen toured Guantanamo facilities including the construction site of a new high-security courtroom that U.S. officials say should speed up inmate trials.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have said holding suspects for years without trial violates basic international legal standards.

U.S. officials say some governments will not take custody of their citizens held at Guantanamo, others would not treat their citizens humanely and still others are not willing to provide security guarantees Washington believes are necessary.

Mullen said there were some “really, really bad people” detained at Guantanamo who had committed “extraordinary crimes.” Among those detained is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Mullen also said steps had been taken to reduce the population at the camp, which now stood at 277.

Editing by Eric Walsh