May 7, 2006

Bush says he would like to close Guantanamo

By Noah Barkin

BERLIN (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said he would
like to close the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay -- a step
urged by several U.S. allies -- but was awaiting a Supreme
Court ruling on how suspects held there might be tried.

"Of course Guantanamo is a delicate issue for people. I
would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial,"
Bush said in comments to German television to be broadcast on
Sunday night. The interview was recorded last week.

Human-rights groups have accused the United States of
mistreating Guantanamo detainees through cruel interrogation
methods, a charge denied by the U.S. government.

They also criticize the indefinite detention of suspects
captured since the military prison was opened in 2002 at the
U.S. naval base in Cuba, as part of the Bush administration's
war on terrorism.

Bush was asked by the German public television station ARD
how the United States could restore its human-rights image
following reports of prisoner abuse.

"Our top court must still rule on whether they should go
before a civil or military court," he said.

"They will get their day in court. One can't say that of
the people that they killed. They didn't give these people the
opportunity for a fair trial."

The quotes were translated by Reuters from a German

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of
June on whether military tribunals of foreign terrorist
suspects can proceed.

Bush's comments were a reiteration of long-standing U.S.
policy, Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National
Security Council, said in Washington.

"The United States has no intention of permanently
detaining individuals, that is not our goal. We want to see all
these individuals brought to justice," he said, whether in
their home countries or in the United States.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, however, has dismissed
calls for the prison to be closed.

"Every once and a while someone pops up and gets some press
for saying 'Oh let's close Guantanamo Bay.' Well, if someone
has a better idea, I'd like to hear it," Rumsfeld said in a
February speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

The United States has 480 detainees at Guantanamo and has
freed or handed over to their home governments a total of 272.
The Pentagon has said it has no interest in holding anyone
longer than necessary but that it has been unable to arrange
for some to return to their home countries.

The Pentagon says the detainees come from 40 countries and
the West Bank, with the largest number from Saudi Arabia,
Afghanistan and Yemen.

In a report last week for the U.N. Committee against
Torture, Amnesty International said torture and inhumane
treatment were "widespread" in U.S.-run detention centers,
including Guantanamo Bay.

The United States defended its treatment of foreign
terrorism suspects in a hearing before the committee in Geneva
on Friday, saying it backed a ban on torture.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington)