- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Sunday that prisoners being held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will not be set free in the U.S. unless they are American citizens, but could not explicitly say where they might be sent.

“If they are not a U.S. citizen or if they are not here legally, then, even if they were released by a federal judge, they would not be able to stay here in the United States. They would be sent back to their country of origin. They would not stay here,” Mr. Biden said on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” adding that he thought only one Guantanamo detainee is an American citizen.

On his second day on the job, President Obama ordered the detention center in Cuba closed within a year, moving to fulfill a prominent campaign promise and reversing one of the Bush administration’s most contentious policies.

But critics and supporters quickly pointed out that closing down the prison opens the question of what to do with the 245 “enemy combatants” being held there, given that nobody in the U.S. wants them nearby - the “Not In My Back Yard” mentality - and that sending them to their countries of origin poses its own problems.

“You think Yucca Mountain is a NIMBY problem? Wait till you see this one,” Sen. John McCain said on “Fox News Sunday,” comparing the prison with the would-be nuclear-waste repository in Nevada, which has been held up by intense local opposition.

When Mr. Biden was pressed by host Bob Schieffer, he acknowledged that the problem with sending detainees any place else is that some of their native countries don’t want them.

“Well, that’s true. That’s - we’re, literally, Bob - and I’m getting briefed in this, as the president is - we’re going one prisoner at a time. We’re trying to figure out exactly what we’ve inherited here,” Mr. Biden replied, although he expects the administration’s goal of closure within one year to be met.

He said that for detainees who cannot be convicted in U.S. courts and held in U.S. prison facilities, “we will most likely be rendering them back to their countries of origin or another country.”

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” said he expects Mr. Obama will face the same troubles former President George W. Bush did when contemplating shutting the down the military prison, including that freeing the detainees allows them to rejoin terrorist groups.

“Some of them, you might be able to release, but we’ve already found 61 of those that we released back on the battlefield,” Mr. Boehner said. “You don’t want to bring them into the United States, where all the sudden they have rights of U.S. citizens.”

Mr. Boehner suggested reopening Alcatraz, the famous prison in San Francisco Bay that is now a national park.

“You know, if, if the liberals in America believe that Gitmo ought to go, then maybe we ought to just open Alcatraz and move those prisoners there,” he said, even though the measure would likely gain little support

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, dismissed the proposal to house terrorism suspects at Alcatraz, which sits in San Francisco Bay, in her district.

“Alcatraz is a tourist attraction,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” adding that the facility could no longer serve as an operational prison.

Mr. Biden said the president’s executive order to close the federal detention center in Guantanamo Bay within one year is “very complicated” and that people must be patient as the administration works out the details, but added: “Definitely, it’s closing, period.”

He said the prison has become a “symbol” that has “grown terrorist organizations.”

Along with his Guantanamo order, Mr. Obama also ended the practice of extraordinary rendition - under which a prisoner is sent to another country for interrogation, often a country where U.S. human rights protections do not exist or are ignored and where torture is routine. Therefore, the U.S. sending many detainees to their countries of origin would likely expose them to abuse worse than Guantanamo.

One day before ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Obama placed 120-day suspension on the military tribunals, calling for a review of the trial system, which had been set up as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terrorism.”

Critics slammed the Bush administration for not affording the detainees at Guantanamo Bay legal representation. The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that human rights protections afforded by the Geneva Convention applied to detainees, and the military drafted a specific policy detailing those protections.

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