US weighs plan for closing Guantanamo: NY Times

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New York, Nov 4: Bush administration officials are weighing a plan that would grant detainees at Guantanamo Bay greater rights, as part of an effort to close the facility and possibly move some of the detainees to US locations, The New York Times reported in today's editions.

Citing US officials involved in the discussions, the Times said the widely discussed proposals for revamping procedures that determine whether inmates are properly held included granting detainees legal representation at hearings.

Giving federal judges, rather than military officers, authority to decide whether suspects are held is also under discussion, the report said.

Officials contend that moving detainees to US territory would have to include enhanced protections, the Times said.

If detainees were relocated, "there is a recognition that for policy reasons you would need even more robust procedures than those currently at Guantanamo," the newspaper cited a senior official involved as saying.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials said the current discussions about ways of closing Guantanamo had picked up steam in recent weeks as Defense Secretary Robert Gates directed advisers to develop a proposal to accomplish that.

Some officials contend that granting detainees greater rights could help the administration strategically, by undercutting a case brought by Guantanamo suspects before the US Supreme Court that could win them greater power to challenge their detentions, the Times said.

Lawyers inside and outside the government said a detailed administration proposal to expand detainees' legal protections could influence the justices and lead them to conclude they need not rule on the case, Boumediene v Bush.

Officials told the newspaper in interviews the detainee rights discussions were not an acknowledgment of faulty policies at Guantanamo, but more a sign that Washington was assessing the consequences of shutting it down and relocating detainees to US soil.

But some officials are opposing major policy shifts, the report added.

Legislation would be required authorizing detainees deemed a threat to be held "until the end of hostilities" in the war on terrorism before they could be moved, the Times said, and a secure US site would first have to be found or even built.

"These are dangerous men," the Times quoted Sandra Hodgkinson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, as saying. "There has to be an appropriate way of handling that," she said.

Hodgkinson cited practical considerations about widening detainees' legal rights if they were to be moved, the Times said.

She also noted that Pentagon officials were insisting that enemy combatants held outside the country could be held by the military until such point as they were not deemed a threat.

The proposal to provide lawyers to detainees for detention hearings with their cases being heard by judges would also need to be restricted to those held inside the United States.

Referring to the 24,500 detainees held in Iraq, she asked, "How would we provide 25,000 lawyers in Iraq?" adding that was impossible.

Reuters>

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