US may move detainees to Afghan prison

The United States is helping build a prison in Afghanistan that would take some prisoners now at Guantanamo Bay, but the White House said Friday that it was not meant as an alternative to the detainee facility in Cuba

The Bush administration wants to close Guantanamo Bay and move its terror suspects to prisons elsewhere, but says no decision about the status of the facility is imminent. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said the United States has released about 80 of some 375 detainees, and hopes to transfer several dozen Afghans back to Afghanistan in the near future.

“America does not have any intention of being the world’s jailer,” Perino said, adding that the administration wants other nations to take their prisoners back, and treat them humanely, but not let them back on the battlefield.

She said President Bush has directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work with her counterparts around the world to try to repatriate the detainees to their home countries, make sure that they are held safely and treated humanely and that they are not allowed to perpetrate acts of terrorism.

The Guantanamo Bay prison, set up in 2002 to house terror suspects captured in military operations, mostly in Afghanistan, has been a flash point for criticism of the Bush administration at home and abroad.

Human rights advocates and foreign leaders have repeatedly called for the shutdown of Guantanamo, and the prison is regarded by many as proof of U.S. double standards on fundamental freedoms in the war on terrorism.

Some of the detainees come from countries that are U.S. allies, including Britain, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Each of those governments raised complaints about the conditions or duration of detentions, or about the possibility that detainees might face death sentences.

Senior administration officials said Thursday that a consensus is building for a plan to shut the detention center and transfer detainees to one of more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Perino would not comment on whether detainees were headed to Kansas.

Bush’s national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting Friday, the officials said, but after The Associated Press reported it, the White House said the meeting would not take place that day and no decision on Guantanamo Bay’s status is imminent.

Three senior administration officials spoke about the discussions on condition of anonymity because they were internal deliberations.

Perino said the meeting was canceled “very late” on Thursday because it was determined that a “meeting wasn’t necessary at this time.”

“There was going to be a meeting in which Guantanamo detainee issues were discussed today, but that has been taken off the schedule,” Perino said Friday. “That doesn’t mean that people don’t continue to work on what the president has asked them to do, which is work towards getting that facility closed.”

Expected to consult soon, according to the officials, were Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace.

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