WASHINGTON—Congress is considering closing Guantanamo Bay as a detention facility and transferring its prisoners to military facilities in the United States.
The plan set off a hot debate Thursday, with some members of Congress saying they were afraid that moving the prisoners could be dangerous.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the top-ranked Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said he was against any plan that would move people he called terrorists to American communities.
After a committee meeting Thursday, Hunter released a list of 17 U.S. facilities that he said were being considered to house the detainees. They include locations in California, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.
"Many of these terrorists held at Guantanamo have killed or threatened Americans," Hunter said. "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed admitted earlier this month to masterminding the attacks on the United States on September 11th."
It's not clear, however, how many of those who've been held at Guantanamo are terrorists such as Mohammed and how many were turned over to American forces for money, out of personal or tribal rivalries or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Congress faced "a hard call" in deciding what to do. He said Guantanamo "has become a lighting rod for criticism of American detainee policy and has undermined both our moral authority and our ability to rally necessary support for our policies abroad."
"There are some in Guantanamo who might well be released or remanded to a home or third country," Skelton said. "Yet there is a core group of hardened terrorists who must be detained, tried and confined for a long time. Determining where to lock up these hard-core detainees over the long term, so as to ensure that they cannot return to the battlefield, is the question."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked for a recommendation Thursday at a hearing of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee,
"Abu Ghraib did us so much damage and Guantanamo continues to inflict that kind of damage in terms of our credibility," Democratic Rep. James Moran of Virginia told Gates. "I think the committee would appreciate you giving some thought to—pragmatically, logistically—how we could achieve the closure of Guantanamo, whether it be at Quantico, Fort Leavenworth, Charleston; you would know best."
When he was asked whether U.S. facilities could hold the prisoners, Gates said: "I would assume that we have the capacity, the actual physical capacity." But he said it was an issue where "there needs to be some dialogue between the Congress" and the administration.
Gates told the subcommittee that he began his job as defense secretary thinking that Guantanamo should be closed, and he said that President Bush "has expressed it as a wish."
"Part of the problem that we have encountered is, first of all, I think that my own view is that because of things that happened earlier at Guantanamo, there is a taint about it," Gates said. But he said decisions must be made on "how do you keep these people—who are self-confessed terrorists, who will come back and attack the United States if they're ever released—for the long term."
Rep. John Murtha, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said there was no easy solution: "I want it closed. I wish it were closed . . . but it's not that easy. We've got to find a way to get this thing worked out, though."
POSSIBLE U.S. DESTINATIONS FOR GUANTANAMO DETAINEES:
Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Fort Knox, Ky.
Fort Sill, Okla.
Fort Lewis, Wash.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
Naval Brig Norfolk, Va.
Weapons Station Charleston, S.C.
Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Submarine Base Bangor, Wash.
Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.
Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.
Marine Corps Brig Quantico, Va.
Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
_Source: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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