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Bring terrorists to US? Better than leaving Gitmo open, panel says.

In a letter to Congress Tuesday, 17 terrorism experts said America's super-maximum security prisons can handle detainees from Guantánamo.

By Staff writer / July 7, 2009

In this June 1 file photo reviewed by the US military, Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees, who at the time were cleared for release but had no country to go to, show a home-made note to visiting members of the media, at Camp Iguana detention facility, at Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base, Cuba.

Brennan Linsley/Pool/AP/File

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With the deadline to close the Guantánamo Bay prison just six months away, Obama administration lawyers told Congress Tuesday they are still unsure about how they will deal with the remaining detainees there.

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But a bipartisan group of leading homeland-security experts criticized congressional efforts to block to the administration from moving the Guantanamo detainees to the US as “unnecessary and harmful to our national security.”

Currently, more than 200 detainees remain at the naval prison camp in Cuba. Congress and administration officials are currently debating whether they should be prosecuted in civilian or military courts, as well as where such trials should take place. Some in Congress object to bringing the detainees back to this country to stand trial and have blocked the administration from doing so during the 2009 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The homeland-security experts sought to undercut this objection, saying in a letter to Congress Tuesday that closing Guantánamo would be a “net benefit to our counterterrorism efforts,” and that doing so will require bringing some terrorists here for “trial, detention, or, if appropriate, resettlement."

“Guantánamo is so onerous to us from a foreign-policy standpoint that we’ve got to get rid of it,” says Ronald Marks, a former senior CIA official and senior vice president of Oxford Analytica, an international consulting firm in Washington. He was one of 17 terrorism experts who signed the letter to Congress.

“The logical answer is to bring some of these guys to super-maximum security prisons here and keep them here for the rest of their lives,” he says.

But some congressmen, like Rep. Tom Rooney (R) of Florida, contend that after the detainees are tried, those who are convicted should remain at Guantánamo to serve out their terms.

“It is completely unacceptable to move these dangerous individuals to our federal prisons where they will be integrated with other prisoners,” wrote Representative Rooney in a recent post on the Heritage Foundation’s website. “Why close a facility that is equipped and clearly capable of housing and trying these dangerous individuals?”

But Mr. Marks counters that the prisoners in super maximum facilities are not integrated into the general prison population. The statement sent by the homeland-security experts also noted that “there are currently 216 inmates in federal prisons for crimes related to international terrorism, including the masterminds of the first World Trade Center bombing, the terrorist who plotted to bring down multiple US airliners, and terrorists who planned to blow up bridges and tunnels in New York.”

The administration’s task force on closing Guantánamo is expected to release its recommendations at the end of July.

Some homeland-security experts like the Heritage Foundation’s Charles Stimson believe once “there is a firm proposal and a detailed plan put forth by the administration” to deal with the detainees, Congress will reverse itself and provide funding for the closure, even if some detainees are brought to the United States.

“You’re going to see change in the votes by a good number of Democrats on that issue,” says Mr. Stimson, “unless the detailed plan is insufficient to them.”

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