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Obama To Order Guantanamo Prison Closed, Adviser Says

A watch tower at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay

A watch tower at the detention center in Guantanamo Bay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will issue an executive order, probably within his first week in office, to close the prison at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an Obama transition adviser has said.

Despite such an order, the prison is unlikely to be shut right away until a solution is found on where to house its occupants.

Obama said repeatedly during his campaign for the White House that the prison for suspected terrorists, a global symbol of U.S. detainee abuses, had to go.

"There is going to be an executive order on closing down Guantanamo," the adviser told Reuters, adding the move would probably be made during Obama's first several days in office.

The move, which will likely be welcomed by allies around the world, would be a largely symbolic one. Obama himself said in an interview broadcast on January 11 that closing the facility would take some time.

"[It] is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize," he said on the ABC television network.

"You have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial...and some of the evidence against them may be tainted, even though it's true."

But Obama said closure was non-negotiable for him.

"We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution," he said. "We will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values."

The Obama administration will have to decide how to replace the prison and how to revise detention and interrogation practices in keeping with the president-elect's vows for more humane policies.

Outgoing President George W. Bush said on January 12 at a news conference that many of the countries that criticized the United States for keeping the prison open had been unwilling to take on the detainees who were held there.

About 255 men are still held at the U.S.-run naval base in Cuba, a symbol of aggressive interrogation methods that exposed the United States to allegations of torture.

Washington has cleared 50 of the detainees for release but cannot return them to home countries because of the risk they would be tortured or persecuted there. Around 500 others have been freed or transferred to other governments since 2002.