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House votes to require Pentagon plan for transfer of detainees

WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a measure that would require the secretary of defense to draw up a plan to transfer all detainees out of Guantanamo.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said he hoped the study would be a step toward closing Guantanamo, but first the Defense Department must solve the problem of what to do with the detainees.

"Guantanamo is a legal black hole that causes America to lose ground every day in our battle for ideas against extremism," Moran said. "We want the world to believe that we are a nation of laws, guided by values and principles," which include "the right of people to know what they are charged with before they are detained and be able to defend themselves."

The study requirement was an amendment to a bill authorizing defense spending for fiscal year 2008 that the House passed Thursday. The amendment passed 220-208.

Moran, the amendment's sponsor, said he'd have preferred one calling for closing Guantanamo outright, but didn't have the votes for it.

The Senate is expected to vote on the defense authorization bill next month. If the Guantanamo study provision remains in the bill, and if it's signed into law by President Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would be required to submit a report to Congress within 60 days on a plan for transferring the detainees.

The Defense Department also would be required to tell Congress how many detainees they planned to charge with a crime, transfer to their native countries or continue to detain as suspected enemy combatants in the war on terrorism.

The 2006 Military Commissions Act limited detainees' rights to file petitions challenging their detention at Guantanamo.

The White House referred questions about Moran's amendment to Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council. He said that the Defense Department has plans for dealing with the detainees in accord with the Military Commissions Act.

"We have no desire to be the world's jailer, and we don't hold detainees any longer than necessary," said Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. However, Gordon wasn't familiar with Moran's amendment and couldn't speak to it.

About 380 detainees are being held at Guantanamo, and about 80 of them have been recommended for transfer or release, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the Guantanamo commander, testified before a congressional subcommittee last week.

The 80 were waiting until the countries that would receive them can "satisfy security and international treaty obligations," Joseph A. Benkert, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security affairs, said at the same hearing.

The hearing focused on whether defendants might be transferred to military bases in the United States with brigs that could accommodate them while they are put on trial before military commissions. Defense lawyers have argued that holding the trials at Guantanamo is logistically difficult.

In an early indication that the Pentagon is not interested in transfers, Daniel J. Dell'Orto, principal deputy general counsel at the Defense Department, said that moving the detainees to the United States to appear before military commissions would "hamstring the nation's ability to prosecute terrorist war crimes." He argued that rules of evidence in U.S. courts should not be applied to the detainees, because evidence against them was obtained on the battlefield.

More than 200 detainees haven't been charged with war crimes, and some have been held for five years. The Defense Department has argued that it has the right to hold them to prevent them from fighting against the United States.

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(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Nancy A. Youssef contributed.)

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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