By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 13, 2009 - A solution for closing down the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has vexed Defense Department officials and will remain a challenge during President-elect Barack Obama's administration, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has advocated shutting down the facility since he was appointed two years ago. And while Obama has expressed similar interests throughout his campaign, both acknowledge it "may take some time" to accomplish, Morrell said during a Pentagon news conference.
"The challenge, of course, has been for this president and for this secretary: How do you close it?" he said. "There are a range of outcomes, a range of possibilities under discussion, and no one has settled on, at this point, any one option or solution to this thorny problem."
Before U.S. officials close the facility, Gates wants to see legislation outlining where and how the detainees will be housed to ensure they don't return to violence, Morrell said. The host country must guarantee their safe treatment and provide for their confinement effectively, he added.
"There are some [detainees] we have identified as being ready to be transferred back to their homelands," he said. "We are just looking for a willing recipient of them, a willing government to take them on ... so they don't return to terrorism."
Another issue is recidivism. Morrell said 61 detainees who have been held and then released from Guantanamo Bay are suspected or confirmed to be "returning to the fight."
A prior report released by the Defense Department showed that 7 percent of detainees released from Guantanamo continued pursuing acts of terrorism. The new numbers reflect an 11-percent increase of known terrorist re-engagement, with 18 confirmed and 43 suspected, he added. However, he could not confirm specifics or locations of these attacks.
"So there clearly are people who are being held at Guantanamo who are still bent on doing harm to America, Americans, and our allies," he continued. "So there will have to be some solution for the likes of them, and that is among the thorny issues that the president-elect and his new team are carefully considering."
Morrell said the Defense Department has encouraged countries around the world to house some of the detainees. Countries such as Portugal and Germany have responded by publicly declaring their willingness to take on some of the detainees, and have urged other European countries to do the same.
"It would certainly help us draw down the population in Guantanamo Bay," he said. "We certainly believe there are many detainees there who are qualified to be moved out. And so we are encouraging of those countries that are willing to do so to step up to the plate and offer to take them. That would certainly be a way to help diminish the overall numbers in Guantanamo."