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Obama faces dwindling options in his effort to close Guantanamo Bay
Republicans are flatly opposed to closing the Guantanamo Bay facility, and some Democrats are unwilling to back the administration.
"I don't think it's appropriate for them to be held on American soil, so I would oppose both" funding for the acquisition of the Illinois prison and authority for the administration to move detainees there, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Webb and five other senators, including Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said in a letter this week to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. that the security risks and price tag of federal trials are too great.
"Holding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's trial in that city, and trying other enemy combatants in venues such as Washington, DC and northern Virginia, would unnecessarily increase the burden of facing those challenges, including the increased risk of terrorist attacks," the senators wrote.
The District's top federal judge said Thursday that his court can safely handle high-profile terrorism trials, but that the prosecutions would pose a "security burden." The federal courthouse is three blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
"Ultimately, if the political branches decide the courts are going to do it, then we're going to do it," Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said in an interview. "We'll work with the Marshals and other officials to ensure we do it safely."
He said the security enhancements would include blocking streets and other undisclosed screening measures. He said he did not know how much the stepped-up security would cost.
Lamberth said Justice Department officials have told him which terrorism suspects they are considering bringing to trial in the District's federal court, but he declined to identify them.
Human rights activists acknowledged that Obama appears to have a dwindling set of choices but suggested that might lead to decisions Republicans could find even more unpalatable than closing Guantanamo Bay.
"He has no way to bring them in at the moment unless he prosecutes them," said Tom Malinowski, head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "The irony, from the point of view of the Republicans, who have chosen to use this against the president, is that they are making it more likely that people they consider to be dangerous are going to be sent home because that becomes the only conceivable option."
Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.