San Diego Union Tribune

March 31, 2007

Guantanamo detainees unlikely to be transferred, officials say


WASHINGTON – Government officials said yesterday that there is no immediate prospect of transferring hundreds of accused terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay to military prisons near San Diego or elsewhere in the United States.




Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who opposes closing the U.S. base in Cuba, raised the issue Thursday when he released a list of 17 military prisons – including brigs at the Marines' Camp Pendleton and Miramar air station – that he said House Democrats identified as “potential relocation points for terror suspects.”

Hunter said “thousands of American civilians” could become endangered if detainees who were transferred to the prisons escaped or shared their skills with other inmates, or if the prisons became terrorist targets.

Congressional aides and others said as far as they know, there are no plans to close Guantanamo or transfer its 385 prisoners to domestic facilities.

President Bush has expressed a willingness to close Guantanamo, which has become a lightning rod for criticism of the United States. But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also favors closing it, expressed doubts that the military prison system “provides the capacity to keep” its detainees incarcerated on a long-term basis.

Officials at Camp Pendleton said they have no indication the brig is being considered to hold terrorists, which they said would require significant modification of the facility, reorganization, training and additional funding.

“Headquarters Marine Corps has not officially tasked the Camp Pendleton brig, nor has anyone on this installation been told about any possible considerations relating to Guantanamo Bay detainees,” said 2nd Lt. Curtis Williamson, a Camp Pendleton spokesman.

No contingency plans have been made for the transfer of prisoners if Guantanamo closes, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

“While some have called for the closure of Guantanamo, none (has) put forth a viable option to handle these dangerous men and prevent their return to terrorism,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman.

Congressional aides said the debate over Guantanamo has just begun.

“It's too early to know what's going to happen,” said Loren Dealy, spokeswoman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo. Skelton has not taken a position on closing the Guantanamo facility.

Josh Holly, a spokesman for Hunter, said it's significant that the House Armed Services Committee was presented with a list of military prisons that could be used to hold detainees during the panel's first hearing on closing Guantanamo on Thursday.

“This is the first time we have seen a list that has been produced,” Holly said.

According to an internal committee memo, the chart of prisons is based on 2003 figures put together for the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. The chart shows the 17 prisons having the capacity to hold 424 more prisoners than the 2,141 who were incarcerated at that time.


 »Next Story»