BERLIN (Reuters) -President George W. Bush said he would like to close the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay — a step urged by several U.S. allies — but was awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on how suspects held there might be tried.
“Of course Guantanamo is a delicate issue for people. I would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial,” Bush said in comments to German television to be broadcast on Sunday night. The interview was recorded last week.
Human-rights groups have accused the United States of mistreating Guantanamo detainees through cruel interrogation methods, a charge denied by the U.S. government.
They also criticize the indefinite detention of suspects captured since the military prison was opened in 2002 at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, as part of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
Bush was asked by the German public television station ARD how the United States could restore its human-rights image following reports of prisoner abuse.
“Our top court must still rule on whether they should go before a civil or military court,” he said.
“They will get their day in court. One can’t say that of the people that they killed. They didn’t give these people the opportunity for a fair trial.”
The quotes were translated by Reuters from a German transcript.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June on whether military tribunals of foreign terrorist suspects can proceed.
Bush’s comments were a reiteration of long-standing U.S. policy, Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in Washington.
“The United States has no intention of permanently detaining individuals, that is not our goal. We want to see all these individuals brought to justice,” he said, whether in their home countries or in the United States.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, however, has dismissed calls for the prison to be closed.
“Every once and a while someone pops up and gets some press for saying ‘Oh let’s close Guantanamo Bay.’ Well, if someone has a better idea, I’d like to hear it,” Rumsfeld said in a February speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The United States has 480 detainees at Guantanamo and has freed or handed over to their home governments a total of 272. The Pentagon has said it has no interest in holding anyone longer than necessary but that it has been unable to arrange for some to return to their home countries.
The Pentagon says the detainees come from 40 countries and the West Bank, with the largest number from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
In a report last week for the U.N. Committee against Torture, Amnesty International said torture and inhumane treatment were “widespread” in U.S.-run detention centers, including Guantanamo Bay.
The United States defended its treatment of foreign terrorism suspects in a hearing before the committee in Geneva on Friday, saying it backed a ban on torture.