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Defense Secretary Wanted Gitmo Closed

When the phrase “speaking on ground rules of anonymity” appears in The New York Times, we tend to get nervous, but a set of anonymous reports just caught our eye. According to the reports, our new defense secretary, right out of the gate (forgive the pun), argued for closing Guantanamo because its reputation had hurt the war effort. Robert M. Gates also reportedly argued that the detainees there should be brought to the U.S.

Condoleezza Rice actually agreed with the proposal, only to run headlong into opposition from Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales. After going round and round for a bit, President Bush opted for the status quo, putting the kibosh on any further discussion.


New York Times:

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantanamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantanamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.

As Mr. Gates was making his case, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined him in urging that the detention facility be shut down, administration officials said. But the high-level discussions about closing Guantanamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach, although officials at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department continue to analyze options for the detention of terrorism suspects.

The base at Guantanamo holds about 385 prisoners, among them 14 senior leaders of Al Qaeda, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who were transferred to it last year from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Under the Pentagon’s current plans, some prisoners, including Mr. Mohammed, will face war crimes charges under military trials that could begin later this year.

“The policy remains unchanged,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

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