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Homeland Security

Guantanamo Debate Intensifies

By Paula Wolfson
White House
24 May 2009

The U.S. Congress may be on holiday recess this week, but the debate over the Obama administration's plans to close the Guantanamo detention center continues. The topic dominated the Sunday news interview programs broadcast each week on major American television networks.

There are many opinions in Washington about the Guantanamo prison and how to deal with terror detainees.

But there is one point on which all sides agree: it is a complex issue, and one not easily resolved.

The nation's top military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, supports closing the prison and says various options are being explored. He told ABC's This Week program that the Pentagon is working hard to meet President Obama's one-year deadline to close Guantanamo.

"There are some really bad people there and so figuring out how we are going to keep them where they need to be, keep them off the battlefield as well as close Gitmo [Guantanamo] itself, is a real challenge," said Admiral Mullen.

Last week, the U.S. Senate joined the House of Representatives in voting to deny funds to shut down Guantanamo until the administration comes up with a detailed plan for handling the remaining detainees.

Of particular concern is one category: detainees considered a severe threat, who for one reason or another cannot be prosecuted.

The president has suggested some could be held at American high-security prisons. Republicans - like Senator John Kyl of Arizona - reject that idea. Kyl appeared on the Fox News Sunday program.

"I do not know why it is better to have someone in a so-called "super-max" facility in, say Colorado, than it is to keep them in Guantanamo - a state of the art facility that we built not too long ago for the explicit purpose of holding these people," said Senator Kyl.

His Senate colleague, Dick Durbin of Illinois expressed a different view on NBC's Meet the Press.

"We have successfully tried terrorists in the United States," said Senator Durbin. As I sit here today, we have 347 convicted terrorists secure in our incarceration facilities. We know that they can be tried and held safely."

Former secretary of state Colin Powell, speaking on the CBS program Face the Nation, said setting up the Guantanamo prison was one of several steps taken after the September 11attacks to keep America safe.

He noted the Bush administration also wanted to shut down the facility, but was unable to come up with answers for all the legal questions involved.

"President Bush was not able to close Guantanamo on his watch and President Obama came in saying he would close Guantanamo and he has run into some of those same sorts of problems," said Colin Powell.

Powell said President Obama made a mistake by going to Capitol Hill for money to close Guantanamo without a detailed plan of action. But he predicted that in time, the debate will settle down, and lawmakers will get the specifics they want from the president.

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