Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that even after the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay the U.S. will continue to hold indefinitely a number of suspected terrorists whose cases will never get to trial.
Mr. Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the detainees who cannot be released will have their cases periodically reviewed to determine whether they must continue to be held without trial.
“We want to work with members of the committee and with Congress in determining exactly what the parameters would be,” he said. “But the thought we had was that it would be some kind of review with regard to the initial determination and then a periodic review with regard to whether or not that person should be continued to be” held.
Mr. Holder said the roughly 230 detainees remaining at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, fall into three “buckets” — those who could be sent to foreign countries, those who could be tried in federal court, and those for whom neither option is possible and so will be detained indefinitely.
He did not specify how many would be detained without trial, being willing to estimate only the group who would get a U.S. trial. In response to questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, Mr. Holder agreed that about a quarter of the detainees — between 50 and 60 — may go on trial in federal courts.
“That might be about right,” Mr. Holder said in response to Mr. Graham’s question about whether “25 percent or less” of the 230 detainees will eventually go on trial in the U.S. As for the number sent abroad, he said such cases have to be negotiated with allies and so cannot be guessed.
President Obama early on signed an executive order for the prison to close within a year and put Mr. Holder in charge of a task force to make it happen. Mr. Holder told the committee Wednesday that the task force has reviewed about half the detainees’ cases.
Critics say the prison has become a symbol of American excesses in the fight against terrorism, and have expressed disappointment that closing Guantanamo will apparently not change the fact that U.S. will indefinitely detain some people without trial.
Human Rights First, a group that advocates prosecuting suspected terrorists’ cases in federal court, criticized the plan to continue indefinite detention, saying doing so would be a continuation of the misguided policies of the George W. Bush administration.
“Closing Guantanamo is not simply about shutting the detention facility, it’s about ending long-term detention without trial,” said Sahr Muhammad-Ally, a senior associate in the group’s law and security program. “The government hasn’t made a case as to why these individuals could not be prosecuted under existing laws.”
Earlier this month, the first Guantanamo detainee was brought to the U.S. to face charges in federal court.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani has pleaded not guilty to charges that he participated in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people including 12 Americans. Mr. Ghailani, who has been under indictment since 2001, had been at Guantanamo for nearly three years.
While Mr. Graham said Mr. Holder is “on the right track” in his handling of Guantanamo detainees, the attorney general came under criticism from the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who said he was “disappointed” in Mr. Holder.
Mr. Sessions was particularly critical of the administration’s decision last week to transfer three detainees to Saudi Arabia, where they will have their cases reviewed before they are sent to a rehabilitation program.
“I’m worried,” Mr. Sessions said. “I don’t think the American people are happy with the agendas that we’re seeing now.”