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Gates sought Gitmo closure in first weeks at Defense; Cheney, Gonzales argued against
Mike Sheehan
Published: Friday March 23, 2007
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sought the closure of the U.S. detention facility in Cuba early in his tenure at the Pentagon, The New York Times reports.

"In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay ... had become so tainted abroad," write Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger for the Times, "that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate."

Gates made the case to President Bush and others that the facility should be shut down at once, the Times quotes senior administration officials as saying.

His arguments, continue Shanker and Sanger, again quoting the officials, "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."

The Times reveals that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Gates in urging Guantánamo's closure. But the discussions ended when the President "rejected the approach," though officials "continue to analyze options" for suspect detention.

"Gates's appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush's publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action," write Shanker and Sanger, again relaying what senior administration 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 Guantánamo's continued existence hampered the broader war effort."

Excerpts from the registration-restricted Times article, available in full at this link, follow...

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The base at Guantánamo 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. "Let's see what happens to Gonzales," that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. "I suspect this one isn’t over yet."

Details of the internal discussions on Guantánamo were described by senior officials from three departments or agencies of the executive branch, including officials who support moving rapidly to close Guantánamo and those who do not. One official made it clear that he was willing to discuss the internal deliberations in part because of Mr. Gonzales’s current political weakness. The senior officials discussed the issue on ground rules of anonymity because it entailed confidential conversations.

The officials said Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice expressed their concerns about Guantánamo in conversations with Mr. Bush and others, including Mr. Gonzales, beginning in January and onward. One widely discussed alternative would move the prisoners to military brigs in the United States, where they would remain in the custody of the Pentagon and would be subject to trial under military proceedings. There is widespread agreement, however, that moving any detainees or legal proceedings to American territory could bring significant complications.

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