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US defend Guantanamo detainees' transfer

Senior Obama administration officials defended the process for transferring terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries in response to Republican complaints that the rate of suspects returning to terrorist or insurgent groups is alarmingly high.

world Updated: Apr 14, 2011 07:50 IST

Senior Obama administration officials defended the process for transferring terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries in response to Republican complaints that the rate of suspects returning to terrorist or insurgent groups is alarmingly high.

In testimony on Wednesday before a House panel, State Department official Daniel Fried said the administration closely follows up with a country after a suspect has been transferred, relying on diplomacy and intelligence to regularly check on resettlement.

"So far, our experience has been generally positive, though a number of issues, more related to integration than security, have developed," Fried told a House Armed Services subcommittee. "We were and remain alert to the potential for re-engagement."

Fried said that the administration has been more cautious about repatriation, especially in countries such as Yemen where the security situation has deteriorated. In January 2010, President Barack Obama suspended transfers to Yemen.

Fried, the special envoy for the closure of the Navy-run prison in Cuba, said the administration has been involved in the transfer of 67 detainees to foreign countries. By comparison, more than 500 detainees were transferred during republican president George W Bush's administration.

Republicans on the panel pointed to a report last December in which intelligence officials said 25% of detainees who had been transferred or released since 2002 had either re-engaged in terrorist activities or were suspected of doing so.

Republican Rep Rob Wittman, chairman of the subcommittee, said some suspects have reportedly joined in attacks against the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, or been recruited for al-Qaida.

"In rejoining the fight, these individuals threaten our deployed forces and endanger our security," Wittman said.

William Lietzau, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee policy, said just because a suspect is designated for transfer, the process doesn't happen immediately.

"No review system will be perfect," Lietzau said. "We must be able to guard against belligerent re-engagement, while still allowing for the full spectrum of transfer or prosecution options as alternatives to prolonged detention."

Fried said that the administration was doing all it could, relying on countries willing to accept suspects. He said some countries have asked for the US to defray the costs, and the largest amount paid has been under $100,000 for one detainee.

Fried reiterated the administration's position that Guantanamo should be closed, saying it was in the national interest.