The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon that Bush administration officials were nearing a consensus on the need to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, and that senior, senior administration officials -- including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates and Alberto Gonzales -- were going to meet today to discuss it.
But as soon as the AP story broke, the White House canceled the meeting. Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the Guantánamo discussion is "no longer on the schedule" but that he expected "senior officials" would "meet on the issue in the future." At the White House, Dana Perino seemed to equivocate as to whether the closure of Guantánamo ever was on the agenda. "No decisions on the future of Guantánamo Bay are imminent and there will not be a White House meeting" today, she said.
Why the start-and-stop? As the Washington Post explains, the fate of Guantánamo -- and the nearly 400 individuals still held there -- is the source of some serious disagreement at the highest level of the Bush administration. The president has said that he'd like to see Guantánamo close as soon as possible, but Dick Cheney apparently feels strongly that the U.S. should continue to hold detainees outside the United States and, thus, away from access to U.S. courts.
John Bellinger, legal advisor for the State Department, said Thursday that "the issue of Guantánamo, the situation in Guantánamo, is a source of frustration for this administration."
"On the one hand, it serves a very important purpose, to hold and detain individuals who are extremely dangerous, people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, people who have been planners of 9/11, others who were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and who personally killed U.S. soldiers," he said. "On the other hand, we fully and acutely recognize that Guantánamo has become a lightning rod for criticism around the world, and this is something of deep concern to this administration and to Secretary Rice in particular."