Video: Closing Guantanamo Bay possible

msnbc.com news services
updated 6/9/2005 7:52:30 PM ET 2005-06-09T23:52:30

Are Guantanamo Bay's days numbered as a U.S. military prison camp? Comments from both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to point in that direction, with Rumsfeld noting Thursday that he'd rather have detainees imprisoned by their home countries.

Rumsfeld spoke a day after saying he was unaware of anyone in the Bush administration discussing closing the base in Cuba. Hours later, President Bush refused to rule out shutting the facility, saying his administration was exploring alternatives for detaining the prisoners.

“We’re exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," Bush said on Fox News Channel when asked whether it should be shut down. "What we don’t want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us.”

Human rights groups and former detainees say prisoners at Guantanamo have been mistreated. The Pentagon said last week that some U.S. personnel there mishandled prisoners’ copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

Waiting for Iraq, Afghanistan
U.S. officials are waiting until Iraqi and Afghan authorities have the ability to deal with dangerous prisoners before handing over detainees from those nations, Rumsfeld said Thursday at a news conference during a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

“Our desire is not to have these people. ... Our goal is to have them in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part,” Rumsfeld said.

The defense secretary said interrogators had gained valuable information from Guantanamo prisoners that had saved lives by helping authorities thwart attacks.

The prison holds about 540 men accused of terrorism, most of them alleged members of al-Qaida or the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan that supported Osama bin Laden’s terror network. Some have been there more than three years without being charged with any crime.

Top Democrat wants it closed
Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, added her voice to the criticism by supporting those calling for the closure of the detention camp, including former President Jimmy Carter and Sen. Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Video: Legal battle looms over Guantanamo “I think that we need a fresh start, ... a clean slate for America in the Muslim world,” Pelosi told reporters.

Carter echoed that view earlier this week. “To demonstrate clearly our nation’s historic commitment to protect human rights, our government needs to close down Guantanamo and the two dozen secret detention facilities run by the United States as soon as practicable,” the Democrat said.

Biden, for his part, declared Guantanamo “the greatest propaganda tool that exists for the recruiting of terrorists around the world.”

Amnesty International has called the facility “the gulag of our time,” a criticism that was dismissed by both Bush and Rumsfeld.

Last week’s Pentagon disclosure of mishandling of the Quran followed a report in Newsweek, later retracted, that U.S. investigators had confirmed that a guard had deliberately flushed a prisoner’s Quran in a toilet. The White House blamed that report for violent protests in Muslim nations.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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