WASHINGTON – The U.S. would be delighted to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but cannot until settling the fate of "hundreds of dangerous people" held there, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
"We cannot be in a situation in which we are just turning loose on helpless populations or unprotected populations people who have vowed to kill more Americans if they're released," Rice said.
About 460 suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are incarcerated at the Cuban prison camp; most have been held for more than four years without charges. President Bush has said he is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on whether inmates can face military tribunals before he considers whether to close the facility.
A U.N. panel said Friday the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo violates the world's ban on torture. In issuing its report, the Committee Against Torture said the United States should ensure that no prisoner is tortured.
Rice, who said the report's authors had not visited the detention center, asked that people be "cognizant of the dilemma here."
"Obviously, we don't want to be the world's jailer. We will be delighted when we can close down Guantanamo," Rice said on "FOX News Sunday."
"But I would ask this: If we do close down Guantanamo, what becomes of the hundreds of dangerous people who were picked up on battlefields in Afghanistan, who were picked up because of their associations with Al Qaeda?"
Rice said the U.S. works nearly every day to try to return detainees to their native lands if their governments will take them and guarantee that they will not be mistreated but will be monitored for criminal behavior.
U.S. military officials at Guantanamo said prisoners with makeshift weapons attacked guards during a phony suicide attempt Friday. The incident that left six prisoners wounded. The commanding officer of the facility told reporters that the attack was evidence of the "dangerous nature" of the prisoners.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., agreed that the U.S. should ensure that no prisoner at Guantanamo is subjected to torture. But, he said, closing the prison is premature without a legal resolution to the prisoners' cases.
"I don't think they deserve a fair jury trial, but there should be some sort of adjudication" to decide whether detainees are held for life, executed or released rather than held indefinitely, McCain said.
"This administration has tried, and it's frustrating, to get some sort of process," McCain said. "I'm hoping we can come up with some methodology to resolve this."