WASHINGTON – US officials planning the closure of Guantanamo prison are weighing the cases of about 50 to 100 detainees who cannot be tried or released, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
"The question is what do we do with the 50 to 100 - probably in that ballpark - who we cannot release and cannot try," Gates told a Senate hearing.
"I think that question is still open," Gates said when asked about President Barack Obama's plans to shut down the controversial "war on terror" prison.
His comments made clear that some inmates might have to be detained further even after the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay is closed as ordered by Obama.
The US administration is closely reviewing the files of about 240 detainees held at the center to determine who could be transferred to other countries or tried in US civilian courts or special military tribunals set up under former president George W. Bush, Gates said.
About 60 detainees have been cleared of wrongdoing and the previous administration had planned to charge about 80 of the detainees.
The administration was asking Congress for about 50 million dollars to help cover the costs of possible further detention for some of the inmates, who officials say might be held at military prisons on US soil.
Separately, the Justice Department was requesting 30 million dollars to help pay for the effort to review the detainees' cases, Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Lawmakers warned Gates at the hearing that local governments across the country had already expressed opposition to having any detainees transferred to prisons in their communities.
"I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying 'not in my district, not in my state,'" Gates said, referring to the total number of representatives and senators in Congress.
"And we'll just have to deal with that when the time comes."
One of Obama's first acts after taking office on January 20 was to order the closure of the prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
The detention camp set up in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks was condemned at home and abroad for holding terror suspects without charges indefinitely.
US officials were also considering allowing some of the 17 Chinese ethnic Uighurs held at Guantanamo to settle in the United States, to help encourage allies to accept some of the detainees, Gates confirmed.
"What I have heard people talking about is our taking some of the Uighurs, probably not all," he said.
"Because it's difficult for the State Department to make the argument to other countries they should take these people that we have deemed in this case not to be dangerous, if we won't take any of them ourselves," he said.
Most of the 17 Uighurs held at the prison at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba were cleared more than four years ago of being "enemy combatants."
The Defense Department and the State Department have tried unsuccessfully for several years to arrange the transfer of the Uighurs to a third country, saying they face the risk of persecution if they return to China.
The US administration has said it "cannot imagine" sending the inmates back to China.
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