WASHINGTON – The White House is nearing a bipartisan deal with US lawmakers to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by putting more detainees on trial before military commissions, a report said Friday.
The prospective deal would allow military tribunals to try alleged September 11 plotters and other key terrorism suspects in a sharp reversal of White House pledges for civilian trials, the Wall Street Journal said.
The idea has been championed in Congress by influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
President Barack Obama's administration had announced it would try self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others in civilian courts in New York.
Forty eight Guantanamo prisoners would face indefinite detention as part of the compromise, the Journal said, saying that while there was insufficient evidence to convict them they were deemed too dangerous for release.
The deal's supporters are led in the White House by counsel Robert Bauer and Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
They are lobbying for backing from key Democrats including Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, the daily said.
Durbin's home state of Illinois would house most of the detainees still held at Guantanamo at a federal prison there that has been pegged for purchase.
"The broad framework of a deal is done," the report said, quoting a senior Democrat aide in the Senate as saying: "We're now at the 'getting serious' stage."
The Obama administration is just weeks away from a landmark decision on whether to try Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, and his four alleged co-conspirators in a civilian federal court or in a military tribunal.
New York politicians and residents have been outraged at the prospect of trying the terror suspects just steps from where the World Trade Center once stood. But returning to the military tribunal system would raise many questions.
Human rights groups in particular have criticized any move for a military trial, saying it would not provide the due process and openness needed to bring legitimacy.
Earlier this month Graham said a decision by the White House to revert to military trials would be "an act of leadership well received by the public" and would help secure an agreement to close the Guantanamo center.
"We need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee, but also understands they didn't rob a liquor store," Graham told CBS television. "We're at war, and some of this information is very sensitive and classified."
Washington failed to meet Obama's self-imposed January 22 deadline to close the prison, where some 200 detainees remain, including dozens already cleared for release.
Most have been held without charge or trial on suspicions of terrorism.
© AFP 2023