Gates Backs Obama’s Promise To Close Guantanamo: It Will Be A ‘High Priority’

In recent days, Vice President Cheney has been vociferously defending the Bush administration’s detention policies. On Monday, he told Rush Limbaugh that Guantanamo Bay has been “very well run” and mocked President-elect Obama’s promise to close the facility. “I think they’ll discover that trying to close it is a very hard proposition,” said Cheney. More from the interview:

CHENEY: Remember, these are unlawful combatants. These are people who don’t belong to any recognized military force. They don’t obey the rules of warfare. They’re unlawful combatants. And you can’t — if you’re not going to have a place to locate them like Guantanamo, then you either have to bring them here to the continental United States — and I don’t know any member of Congress who’s volunteering to have al Qaeda terrorists deposited in his district — or you’ve got to turn them over to some foreign government.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will continue to serve under Obama, disputed Cheney’s skepticism. While Gates admitted that shutting down Guantanamo would be difficult, he said that all the potential problems are “solvable.” “I would like to see it closed,” said Gates. “And I think it will be a high priority for the new administration.” Watch it:

In his first weeks as Bush’s defense secretary, Gates also argued that Guantanamo needed to be shut down. According to the New York Times, Gates “urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.” However, he was overruled by Cheney and then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales. (CAP’s Ken Gude has put together a plan on how to safely close Guantanamo and transfer the detainees.)


ROSE: One of the things that they say has stained America’s reputation is Guantanamo. Just — and there is — it is often said that — president-elect has said that he wants to do something about it. President Bush has said that he’s not in favor of Guantanamo. Why hasn’t it been taken down? Why hasn’t there been a change in Guantanamo? What is the problem?

GATES: Well, I think that there are some problems that need to be dealt with, probably in statute, to be able to close it. I think that we can provide alternatives to it.

But as an example, you probably want something in legislation that says if somebody is freed from Guantanamo, they don’t have an automatic right to asylum in the United States. Some of these people are very dangerous. And we don’t want them coming here into the United States.

I think these problems are solvable. And my guess is…

ROSE: So on balance, you would like to see it…

GATES: I would like to see it closed. And I think it will be a high priority for the new administration.

ROSE: How long will it take?

GATES: Well, it partly depends on statute. It partly depends on how quickly we can return some of these people — can persuade other countries to take some of these prisoners back.

Truth is, there are a number of these people we’re ready to release right now, but we can’t find a country that will take them back. Or we can’t find a country that we can be sure won’t further imprison them and mistreat them.


Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates has already ordered aides to put in place a plan for closing Guantanamo.

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