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U.S.: U.K. Official's Call To Close Guantanamo Rejected

Guantanamo Bay facility (file photo) (AFP) PRAGUE, May 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has rejected a call by Great Britain's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith to shut down its prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Goldsmith said Guantanamo had become a symbol of injustice, but the U.S. State Department said many of the detainees there were dangerous and could not be released now.

Symbol Of Injustice

This is not the first time a senior British official has criticized Guantanamo Bay.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has often said the prison was an "anomaly" that would eventually have to close. But Blair has always tempered that by saying it was important to remember the terrorist threat faced by the United States.

Now Goldsmith has gone one step further. In a speech on May 10 to London's Royal United Services Institute, the attorney general said the prison camp was "unacceptable." There are certain principles on which there could be no compromise, he said, singling out a fair trial.

"It is time, in my view, that it should close," Goldsmith said. "Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many, right or wrong, of injustice. The historic tradition of the United States as a beacon of freedom, liberty, and of justice, deserves the removal of this symbol [of injustice]."

Still Dangerous

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was asked about Goldsmith's comments. He began by recalling remarks made on May 7 by President George W. Bush, who said he would like to close the prison camp.

"At some point in the future, we'd like nothing better than to close down Guantanamo," McCormack said. "But the fact of the matter is that the people there are dangerous people and [one] thing we don't want to do is release people now who might at some point in the future end up on the battlefield facing our troops or somebody else's troops or committing acts of terrorism against innocent civilians."

Human rights groups have long criticized the Bush administration for holding terror suspects at Guantanamo indefinitely without charge. They have also condemned cases of alleged prisoner abuse at the camp on a U.S. naval base in Cuba.

They're understandably pleased that Goldsmith, the British government's chief legal adviser, has now added his voice to that chorus of criticism.

The next challenge over Guantanamo is likely to come next month, when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether inmates there can face military trials.

That was the subject, too, of Goldsmith's criticism. He said the United Kingdom was unable to accept that the proposed military tribunals offered sufficient guarantees of fair trial in accordance with international standards.

(compiled from agency reports)