Guantanamo prison will likely be open until Bush leaves office

Published March 25, 2007

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is likely to remain open for the remainder of the Bush administration despite President Bush's stated desire to close it down, the administration said.

"It's highly unlikely that you can dispense with all those cases between now and the end of the administration," White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday of about 385 prisoners currently at the Guantanamo facility.

Asked directly whether the prison would close before Bush leaves office in January 2009, Snow said: "I doubt it, no."

On Monday - more than five years after the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo was established as a detention and interrogation center for alleged "enemy combatants" - the first Guantanamo detainee case will come before a military panel under rules set last year in the U.S. Military Commissions Act.

A federal judge ruled Friday against a postponement requested by attorneys for Australian David Hicks, who is accused of providing material support for terrorists in Afghanistan during the first U.S. raids there in the fall of 2001.

The Guantanamo facility has long been a focus of international and domestic criticism. Other governments have protested the indefinite imprisonment of their nationals without adjudication.

Civil rights groups have called the detentions illegal and cited limited prisoner access to outside legal council and evidence against them. Human rights organizations have alleged the use of torture during interrogations.

Senior officials privately criticized other countries - including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where many of the detainees hold citizenship - for lambasting the United States over Guantanamo while failing to identify solutions.

The administration has said it hopes to transfer to Afghanistan a number of that country's nationals as soon as it finishes building a large prison there.