The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility and move its terror suspects to military prisons elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.
Senior administration officials said Thursday a consensus is building for a proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where they could face trial.
President Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting today, the officials said, but after news of it broke, the White House said the meeting would not take place that day and no decision on Guantanamo Bay's status is imminent.
"It's no longer on the schedule for tomorrow," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "Senior officials have met on the issue in the past, and I expect they will meet on the issue in the future."
Three senior administration officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because they were internal deliberations.
Expected to consult soon, according to the officials, were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace.
Previous plans to close Guantanamo ran into resistance from Cheney, Gonzales and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But officials said the new suggestion is gaining momentum with at least tacit support from the State and Homeland Security departments, the Pentagon and the Intelligence directorate, the AP reports.
The Bush administration has suffered several legal setbacks over the imprisonment of terrorist suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
About 380 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives are held at Guantanamo.
In the most sweeping, the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago struck down Bush's initial system of military trials for Guantanamo prisoners. But Bush late last year pushed through the then-Republican-led Congress a law that created a new system of military tribunals.
Perino said several steps would have to be taken before Guantanamo could be closed, including setting up military commissions and the repatriation to their home countries of detainees who had been cleared for release.
"These and other steps have not been completed," she said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested Congress should explore with the White House ways to close the prison, while not releasing its most dangerous detainees.
Human rights groups have demanded that Guantanamo be closed and detainees charged with crimes or released.
But Vice President Dick Cheney is said to have expressed strong concerns about alternatives to Guantanamo that might involve bringing detainees into the legal system in the United States.
Bush has called the prison a necessary tool in his war on terrorism but has acknowledged that it has tarnished the U.S. image abroad, Reuters reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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