U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has told a congressional committee that about 50 of the detainees still being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison may eventually face U.S. military or civilian trials. Holder faced a barrage of questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday about what the Obama administration plans to do with the remaining 229 detainees at Guantanamo. President Obama has ordered the military detention center closed by January.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the United States is continuing to work with its allies to try to place Guantanamo detainees approved for transfer or release to other countries.
"I think we made pretty significant progress last week when nine people were placed in different countries, the Italians have indicated a willingness to accept three additional ones," he said.
Spain also said Wednesday the United States has asked it to accept four Guantanamo prisoners. Holder said he believed the U.S. would be "successful" in placing all those inmates who qualify for transer or release to other countries.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina asked Attorney General Holder if he expected 25 percent of the remaining Guantanamo inmates would be brought to U.S. courts. Holder did not commit to an exact figure, but said he thought that number, which would mean about 50 detainees- was "about right." The attorney general said the Justice Department has reviewed about half of the detainees' cases until now.
Senator Graham said he was worried about the detainees that the U.S. may not be able to transfer to other countries or to put on trial. Holder said the Obama administration would work with Congress to establish guidelines on how to handle these inmates, making sure they have due process rights.
Senator Graham was a strong backer of Republican Senator John McCain in the race against now President Barack Obama. But he said he and Senator McCain agree with the Obama administration that the Guantanamo prison has hurt U.S efforts to fight terrorism, and in fact has been an effective recruiting tool for terrorists. Graham lobbed Holder an easy question on the Obama administration's new detainee policy that the attorney general heartily agreed with.
"And starting over with detainee policy would probably be a good idea. Do you share that view?" He asked.
Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland agreed that the Obama administration needs a fresh start on its detainee and national security policy, to reestablish its credibility around the world.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama did not agree with his senate colleague, harshly criticizing Holder for releasing Bush administration memos that authorized harsh interrogation techniques against certain terrorist suspects.
"The lawful and wise thing to do, would have been to keep our secrets secret. Yet you did not. Instead you have now given a critical piece of information to our enemies," said Sessions.
Senator Sessions said he had supported Holder's confirmation four months ago, but had been disappointed with many of his decisions and actions. The Obama administration argues that much of the information in the memos was already public knowledge, and that it has now banned such so-called "enhanced interrogation procedures" for the future.