White House (CNSNews.com) – President Bush intends to close the Guantanamo Bay Cuba prison, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday, rebutting media reports to the contrary. But she stressed this action requires caution and diligence because seven percent of detainees previously released are suspected of (or confirmed as) having committed other terrorist acts.
“The president has made a decision to work to try to close Guantanamo Bay. That has not changed,” Perino said.
She stressed that the number of Gitmo detainees has declined from 600 to 270.
Further, she said the White House is dealing with four major issues: moving forward on military commissions; returning detainees to their home countries in a secure way that ensures they will not be a threat; dealing with habeas corpus litigation; and working with Congress to establish new rules on holding and trying prisoners in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that 250 detainees in Guantanamo have the right to make habeas corpus appeals.
Perino was responding to a question during the daily White House press briefing regarding a New York Times report that said Bush “adopted the view of his most hawkish advisors” and would not close the prison that Democrats and the media have criticized throughout the war on terror, often accusing the U.S. of torturing terror suspects held there.
She said the New York Times article contained nothing new and could have been reported in July when similar reports surfaced about disagreements within the Bush administration about when to close Guantanamo Bay.
Bush said in August 2007, “It should be a goal of the nation to shut down Guantanamo … But it is not as easy a subject as some may think.”
Perino repeated the point Tuesday, stressing that the issue is complex.
“It’s not as easy as snapping your fingers, unless you don’t care,” Perino said, “because 7 percent of the people who have been returned from Gitmo have returned to the battlefield. Many of them have been picked up again. One of them couldn’t be picked up again because he was a suicide bomber who killed nearly 40 people in Mosul.”
The seven percent figure came from a Pentagon report in June that said “36 ex-GTMO men ‘confirmed or suspected’ of having returned to terrorism … with Kuwaiti ex-detainee Abdulla Salih Al-Ajmi’s confirmation of a suicide bombing in Iraq, the figure is 37.”
“We’re working on it. But it’s very difficult. It’s slow work,” Perino said. “But it’s slow work because we are being very diligent in making sure we do everything that we can to make sure potential terrorists aren’t in a position to hurt innocent people.”
Others identified in the Pentagon report include:
- Abdulla Salih Al-Ajmi was transferred from U.S. custody to Kuwait in 2005. He subsequently conducted a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq in April 2008.
- Ibrahim Shafir Sen, who was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Turkey in November 2003, then arrested in January 2008 for being an active leader in al Qaeda.
- Abdulla Mahsud, released from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan in 2004, directed a suicide bombing in April 2007 that killed 31 people.
- Abdul Rahman Noor was released from U.S. custody in July 2003. The former deputy defense minister for the Taliban helped fight U.S. forces near the border in Kandahar.
Both presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, have said they favor closing the prison.