Close Guantanamo: Top US senator

2012-11-29 10:00

Washington - The United States can close its detention centre at the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba without risking the nation's security, the head of the US Senate's Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday.

Senator Dianne Feinstein made her case while brandishing a copy of a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the suitability of US prisons to house the remaining 166 detainees currently in custody at Guantanamo.

"This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantanamo without imperilling our national security," Feinstein said.

"The GAO report makes clear that numerous prisons exist inside the United States - operated by both the Department of Defence and the Department of Justice - capable of holding the 166 detainees who remain at Guantanamo in an environment that meets the security requirements."

Indeed there are already many inmates convicted of terrorism serving time at facilities inside the United States, she said.

"To say that high-risk detainees cannot be held securely in a maximum security prison is just plain wrong," Feinstein said.

"The United States already holds 373 individuals convicted of terrorism in 98 facilities across the country.

Obama criticised

"As far as I know, there hasn't been a single security problem reported in any of these cases," she said.

"This fact outweighs not only the high cost of maintaining Guantanamo - which costs more than $114m a year - but also provides the same degree of security without the criticism of operating a military prison in an isolated location."

The GAO report found that there are prisons in the United States that can hold the Guantanamo detainees safely and securely with the same degree of securtiy that exists at the US-run military facility, Feinstein said.

President Barack Obama came under considerable criticism for not following through on his pledge to close the Guantanamo prison facility in his first term as he had pledged, and many analysts have suggested that he might make it a priority in his second term.

Shortly after he took office in January 2009, Obama vowed that he would shutter the "war on terror" prison camp within one year, saying it served as a recruiting tool for militants and hurt US national security.

But that pledge foundered amid strong opposition from lawmakers and other politicians opposed to moving inmates accused of crimes as serious as terrorism to the United States.

Rights groups have strongly criticised Obama for his Guantanamo failings and for maintaining other stringent security tactics put into practice under his predecessor George W Bush.