- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Obama has faced criticism for failing to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday the delay has been caused by Congress, which has not yet approved a new facility to hold suspected terrorist detainees.

Mr. Holder said a government review team has identified 48 detainees who will need to be held indefinitely, in addition to those whom the government wants to put on trial in regular courts or military commissions. He said the administration needs Congress to pass funding to acquire a prison in Illinois before the detainees can be moved from Guantanamo Bay.

“We have to have an option, and that will require congressional support for the funding request we have made,” Mr. Holder said.

Testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder also said no final decision has been made on where to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Holder initially announced that the trial would be held in New York City, but after taking bipartisan heat from New York lawmakers, the White House changed course and said the decision would be reviewed in light of national security concerns.

“New York is not off the table as a place where he might be tried, but we have to take into consideration the concerns that have been raised by local officials,” Mr. Holder said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee and a former U.S. attorney, said he was worried Mr. Holder’s decision on where to hold the trial was being overturned by political types in the administration.

“It makes me a bit uneasy, having served in the department, to have politicians discussing where the cases ought to be tried,” Mr. Sessions said. “That’s normally the Department of Justice professional prosecutors.”

However, Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, said President Obama should do just the opposite and take Mr. Holder out of the decision-making altogether.

“The president should not let Attorney General Holder use his left-wing ideology to steamroll him and cause potential damage to millions of New Yorkers,” Mr. King said.

On Guantanamo Bay, the administration has come under fire from the political left for failing to meet the president’s vow to close the prison within a year of taking office.

Last year, the administration proposed buying the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois and using that to house detainees who will go to trial and also detainees who cannot be released because they are deemed too dangerous but for whom prosecution isn’t an option because the admissible evidence against them is too slim to make a case.

Mr. Obama included money to acquire the Illinois prison in the fiscal 2011 budget he sent to Congress in February, and Mr. Holder said they are waiting on that approval before closing Guantanamo Bay.

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office, said the administration deserves credit for trying to clear many detainees for release or transfer but it has boxed itself in on the 48 detainees to be held indefinitely.

Those detainees have to be held according to international law, which says they have to be segregated and cannot be held in a punitive manner because they are not being charged with crimes. That rules out existing prison facilities, which are punitive.

The Illinois prison, though, could be designed to hold them in one building while holding detainees destined for trial or serving jail sentences in another, punitive setting.

However, Mr. Anders said if the government would concede there is no need for indefinite detention, the administration could find places to house the other detainees facing criminal proceedings.

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