Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed strongly for the closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shortly after joining the Bush administration but lost the battle after he was opposed by other top administration officials.

Gates sought to follow up on President Bush's expressed wish to close the prison, which has been a major source of criticism internationally, The New York Times reported Friday, citing anonymous administration officials.

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Dick Cheney opposed Gates, and Bush ended up on the side of keeping the prison open for the time being.

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Gates wanted to close the prison and bring the remaining prisoners back to the United States, saying that the international distaste over the facility would weaken any legitimacy of military trials held there. Gonzales argued, and Cheney agreed, that there could be legal problems with bringing the prisoners state-side. Gates argued, and was backed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There now are fewer than 400 prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo. The prisoners have been captured in the War on Terror and are said to have terrorist connections. The prison also holds a number of senior Al Qaeda members, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who recently confessed to being the mastermind of the Sept. 11 plot among others.

The officials speaking for the story said that the Gates' battle to close the prison might not be over yet because of the political uproar over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, which has dogged Gonzales. Although Bush has expressed public confidence in Gonzales, he could be politically weakened or even forced out, the officials said, which would change the playing field.