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Justice task force recommends about 50 Guantanamo detainees be held indefinitely
Moving a significant number of detainees to the United States remains key to the administration's now-delayed plan to empty the military facility. The federal government plans to acquire a state prison in Thomson, Ill., to house Guantanamo Bay detainees, but the plan faces major hurdles.
Congress has barred the transfer of the detainees to the United States except for prosecution. And a coalition of Republicans opposed to any transfers and some Democrats critical of detention without trial could derail the possibility of using the Thomson facility for anything other than military commissions, according to congressional staffers.
The task force comprised officials from the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Justice, as well as agencies such as the CIA and the FBI. Officials said that the process of assessing the detainees was extremely challenging and occasionally contentious, but that consensus was reached on each case in the end.
Some European officials, who would like to see Guantanamo Bay closed without instituting indefinite detention, are advocating the creation of an internationally funded rehabilitation center for terrorism suspects in Yemen and possibly Afghanistan. They say such a facility would gradually allow the transfer of all detainees from those countries back to their homelands, according to two sources familiar with the plan.
A majority of the detainees slated for prolonged detention are either Yemeni or Afghan, and European officials think the others could eventually be resettled under close supervision.
European officials hope to raise the issue at an international conference in London next week that will address the situations in Yemen and Afghanistan.
"We are running out of options, and the administration needs to seriously consider this," said Sarah E. Mendelson, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of a report on closing Guantanamo Bay. "There is lots of really good expertise on rehabilitation, and the administration needs to invest in it."
The Bush and Obama administrations considered helping Yemen formulate a rehabilitation program, but the idea foundered amid concerns about the Middle Eastern country's capacity to implement it, officials said.
Since Obama took office, 44 Guantanamo Bay detainees have been repatriated or resettled in third countries, including 11 in Europe.
The administration anticipates that about 20 detainees can be repatriated by this summer, and it has received firm commitments from countries willing to settle an additional 25 detainees who have been cleared for release, officials said.
Within a few days, sources said, four other detainees are slated to be transferred out.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.