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Guantanamo Alternative Eludes Bush Administration

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Bush administration will not be able to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before leaving office, even though he, the president and other officials wanted to do so. VOA's Al Pessin has more from the Pentagon.

In an interview with newswire service reporters on Tuesday, Secretary Gates said he regrets that government officials and lawyers have not found a workable plan to close the detention center and move its 270 terrorism suspects elsewhere. Gates said the new congress and the next U.S. administration should try again soon after they take office in January. He indicated new legislation is needed, but said there was "virtually no chance" of getting such a law through congress during the current election year.

The Guantanamo Bay detention center has become an international symbol of brutality and unfair imprisonment, although U.S. officials say detainees are now treated humanely and each one has an annual hearing to review his status. Gates said the facility is "probably one of the best-run prisons in the world today," but acknowledged that conditions at the facility when it was first opened in 2002 created "a real liability for the United States."

Earlier Tuesday, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman commented on a story in The New York Times newspaper, which first reported that President Bush has concluded he will not be able to close the facility before he leaves office.

"We've looked at what some of the alternatives might be, without getting into those in any great detail," said Bryan Whitman. "It is a complex, complicated issue - legal, security - you can imagine the dimensions of it. And there has not been any particular alternative that's been universally embraced out there."

The United States considers most of the men at Guantanamo "enemy combatants," and says the detainees would be a danger if they were released. The Bush administration has been unwilling to put the men in U.S. prisons and the American justice system, partly because some of the evidence against them is secret and officials do not want to reveal it in open court.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says the next U.S. president will face the same difficulties.

"The next president will come in and realize how complicated this issue is, and that we are working very diligently to try to do everything right," said Dana Perino. "And it's not as easy as just snapping your fingers and closing Guantanamo Bay, unless you don't care, because seven percent of the people who have been returned from Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay] have returned to the battlefield."

Perino says one former detainee became a suicide bomber and killed 40 people in northern Iraq.

The Defense Department plans to put about 80 of the men on trial in military commissions at Guantanamo, which have already begun. But it has not said what it will do with some suspects it is not willing to release and cannot or will not put on trial.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that the chief judge of the military commissions dropped charges against five detainees. No reason was provided, but the judge said the government could reissue charges if it can find justification. The Pentagon says new legal teams are working on the cases.

Several dozen of the detainees have been approved for release. But no country has been found to take them, while also providing the guarantees of humane treatment that the U.S. requires.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says U.S. officials are working "aggressively" with other countries to find new homes for those detainees, some of whom have been waiting years for a place to go. Whitman called on other countries to "share the burden."

On Monday, a federal appeals court in Washington decided that 12 of the detainees approved for release will remain at Guantanamo for at least two more weeks, until a hearing can be held to determine their rights. The men are Muslim Uighurs from China, and a lower court had ordered them brought to Washington for possible immediate release.