US to move Guantanamo inmates, but closure not imminent


Washington : The US hopes to transfer several dozen Afghans held at Guantanamo Bay to a prison in Afghanistan but has no immediate plans to close the detention centre in Cuba, said White House officials.

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President George W. Bush has said he wants to close Guantanamo, which has become a lightning rod for international criticism of the US "war on terror". But US administration officials Friday played down news reports that a decision might come shortly.

Before any closure, military panels must be set up to try terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo and home countries must take back detainees cleared for release by the US, the administration said.

"There are ongoing discussions about that," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Friday, adding that no decision on closing Guantanamo was imminent.

A scheduled Friday meeting of administration officials to discuss the detention facility's future was called off, Perino said, apparently in response to the flurry of media attention Thursday.

"There was a decision that it wasn't necessary at this time," she said.

The US administration is split over how to handle the roughly 375 remaining Guantanamo detainees, including some 220 the government views as too dangerous to let go, the Washington Post reported.

Vice President Dick Cheney as well as the justice and homeland security departments have opposed suggestions to bring detainees to military detention centres in the US, the newspaper said.

Asked whether the administration was considering such a move, Perino said: "That's a very complex legal question."

In efforts to clear some Guantanamo inmates, the US is renovating part of the Pol-e-Charki prison outside Afghanistan's capital city Kabul and training new guards, she said.

"We hope to be able to transfer several dozen Afghans from Guantanamo back to Afghanistan in the near future," she said. Many of the detainees are from the region.

US efforts to close Guantanamo were complicated this month when US military judges in effect halted trials of terrorism suspects because they were classified as "enemy combatants" – not "unlawful" enemy combatants, as required by a 2006 law passed after the US Supreme Court ruled the original trial process illegal.

Guantanamo has come under sharp criticism by European nations and human rights groups for allegedly harsh treatment of detainees and because they are being held outside US civilian law.

Bush has called for Guantanamo's eventual closure, saying that "America has no interest in being the world's jailer", but he insists the US must first be satisfied that freed inmates will not commit terrorism against the US.

Most detainees were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in response to the Sep 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

At its peak, Guantanamo held nearly 800 inmates.

Some Muslim governments won't accept detainee transfers out of fear of appearing to cooperate with the Bush administration, said Anne Marie Lizin, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Lizin declined to identify the countries. She spoke to reporters in Washington after a visit to Guantanamo.