Closure of Guantanamo take longer than expected

The New York Times said on Wednesday that the Obama administration may not be able to close the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and transfer terrorism suspects held there until 2011 at the earliest.

The administration announced plans last week to acquire an under-utilized state prison in the Midwest state of Illinois to house up to 100 Guantánamo detainees. However, The Times says the United States Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay the state for the facility, which would cost about $150 million.

The report says the White House approached lawmakers on the United States House of Representatives Appropriations Committee several weeks ago about adding $200 million to the 2010 military spending bill for the project. Democratic leaders refused, defeating the request due to the project’s controversial nature.

The administration wants to buy the prison as part of efforts to fulfill President Obama’s order to close Guantánamo Bay. The president has acknowledged that the January 2010 deadline for closing the prison will not be met. The plan to close the prison and house the terror suspects in the U.S. has been met with fierce opposition by some members of Congress. Republicans say the closure of the prison and moving of inmates to American soil will make the country a greater target for terrorists.

The White House contends that the current prison at Guantánamo has become a terrorist recruiting symbol. It also pointed out that it would save taxpayers money as the Department of Defense currently pays $150 million to run the Guantánamo prison, while it will only cost $75 million to run the prison in Illinois.

However, some moderate Democrats have also raised concerns, Representative Loretta Sanchez, Democrat from California cited security concerns saying “[p]articularly making something on U.S. soil an attraction for Al Qaeda and terrorists to go after — inciting them to attack something on U.S. soil — that’s a problem, and we need to think it through.”

Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia recently stated that suspects of terrorism “[d]o not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.”

Guantánamo, which now has some 200 inmates, has been harshly criticized by human rights advocates for the alleged abuse and mistreatment of detainees.

The Times says the Obama administration will not have another opportunity to secure funding for the Thomson Correctional Center until Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan. The bill is expected to be finished in March or April.

However, the newspaper says the administration is more focused on securing funding for the Illinois facility in appropriations bills for the 2011 fiscal year, which will not be debated until late 2010. Officials told the Times it could take eight to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades to the Thomson Correctional Center before any transfers take place.

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