msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 6/30/2004 11:18:13 AM ET 2004-06-30T15:18:13

Scrambling to come up with a plan for dealing with an expected deluge of lawsuits from prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Pentagon officials are considering transferring some suspected “hard-core terrorists” to a federal or military prison in the United States, Defense Department officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

The Pentagon also is reviewing the cases of the approximately 600 remaining detainees at Guantanamo with an eye toward releasing as many as 400 of them within the next year, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The moves follow Monday’s broad rejection of the indefinite detentions of suspected terrorists by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that both American citizens and foreign nationals have a right to contest their open-ended detentions in U.S. courts.

The officials said that moving the “hard-core” terrorists to prisons in the United States was just one option being considered.

Focus is on ‘hard-core terrorists’
"We're not talking about hundreds of prisoners, (but) hard-core terrorists who continue to threaten to kill Americans or die trying” and may have to be held indefinitely in a U.S. federal or military prison, said one senior official.

The officials said that the department also is considering keeping the suspects considered to have had serious involvement in al-Qaida or the toppled Taliban government of Afghanistan at the Guantanamo naval prison and expanding the facilities to accommodate defense lawyers and court proceedings.

Administration officials are concerned that because Guantanamo Bay is not in any federal court jurisdiction, lawsuits on behalf of the prisoners could be filed in any of the 94 U.S. district courts, forcing the government to respond in multiple jurisdictions.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Bush administration officials weren’t prepared for the adverse ruling by the Supreme Court and were scrambling to develop a strategy for granting hearings to the detainees without having to deal with lawsuits filed in courts around the country.

“They didn’t really have a specific plan for what to do, case by case, if we lost,” the newspaper quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon official as saying. “The Justice Department didn’t have a plan. State didn’t have a plan. This wasn’t a unilateral mistake on the Defense Department’s part. It’s astounding to me that these cases have been pending for so long and nobody came up with a contingency plan.”

Memo didn't discuss possibility of court defeat
A Justice Department memo reviewed by the newspaper, offering talking points for administration officials on the Supreme Court ruling, offered points to be used in case of a win or a partial victory, but contained no comments for use in the event of a broad defeat.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo denied that legal and military planners had failed to plan for a defeat in the nation’s highest court.

“We obviously were prepared for any outcomes,” he told the Times. “The Defense Department was already providing some amount of process to Guantanamo prisoners. The court said that is not enough. So now we have to figure exactly what type of process will satisfy their rulings.”

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