Gitmo: Pressure to Close the Facility

The suicides of three Guantánamo detainees are likely to add momentum to calls--both inside the administration and in Congress--to close the U.S. facility in Cuba. A plan to shut down the Gitmo prison had quietly picked up support last year from Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, but was blocked by Dick Cheney's office. Cheney and others in the White House feared closing Gitmo would be seen as a capitulation to critics. But even before the suicide hangings of the two Saudis and one Yemeni last week, there were signs that Bush himself was having second thoughts. He twice in recent weeks expressed his desire to close Gitmo, including last week after meeting with the prime minister of Denmark. ("I assured him that we would like to end the Guantánamo," Bush said.) One proposal would accelerate the return of Gitmo detainees to their host countries; the remainder (considered too dangerous) would go to supermax prisons and holding facilities inside the United States. Last week's suicides followed an upsurge in disturbances and hunger strikes; recently detainees protested by shredding mattresses. "The tensions were incredibly high. You could sense that something was coming," says Charles Swift, a defense lawyer who works on Gitmo cases. Now officials fear more anti-U.S. protests worldwide. "This is something the administration has been bracing for, for some time," said one official who has worked on detainee affairs, requesting anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.