Washington Digest

Washington Digest

Friday, May 1, 2009


New Prison May Have To Be Built, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that the Pentagon may have to build a new facility to house detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to hedge against political opposition around the country to the incarceration of the inmates in existing federal or military facilities in the United States.

"I fully expect to have 535 pieces of legislation before this is over saying, 'Not in my district, not in my state,' " Gates said, referring to the number of senators and representatives in Congress. He said the Pentagon wants to have $50 million at hand in case it has to build a prison on short notice.

In January, President Obama ordered the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. Gates said the facilities, which cost tens of millions of dollars to construct, are likely to be "mothballed."

Gates also said the administration, which is reviewing the cases of each of the 241 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has begun to grapple with how to handle those prisoners deemed too dangerous to release but who cannot be put on trial.

"The question is: What do we do with the 50 to 100 -- probably in that ballpark -- who we cannot release and cannot try?" Gates said at a Senate hearing. That raises the prospect of detention without a trial or of military tribunals to use evidence that would not be admitted in federal court or military courts-martial. Such evidence might include raw intelligence that would not meet rules of evidence standards or is tainted because it was obtained from coercive interrogations.

Gates said military commissions, or a modified version of such trials, "are very much still on the table."

-- Peter Finn


Rice Defends Use of Enhanced Techniques

While former vice president Richard B. Cheney has publicly defended the Bush administration's use of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, other senior decision-makers of that administration have remained silent. But former secretary of state and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- who declined to comment last week on the release of Justice Department memos authorizing the practices -- was caught on videotape this week giving a finger-wagging defense to a persistent Stanford University student.

Asked whether waterboarding is torture, Rice replied emphatically: "We were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture."

"In terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do," Rice said. "Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe."

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