The U.S. Congress and the administration of President George W. Bush should work together to allow the U.S. to permanently imprison some of the more dangerous Guantanamo Bay detainees elsewhere so the facility can be closed, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
Gates said the challenge is figuring out what to do with hard-core detainees who have "made very clear they will come back and attack this country."
He said it may require a new law to "address the concerns about some of these people who really need to be incarcerated forever, but that doesn't get them involved in a judicial system where there is the potential of them being released," Gates told the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee.
Gates comments came as the Pentagon released the transcript from a Guantanamo hearing involving a Saudi linked to the September 11 attacks. He said he got money transfers from two hijackers inside the United States hours before the planes struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who was based in the United Arab Emirates on September 11, 2001, denied that he was a member of the al Qaeda terrorist network and that he sent money to the hijackers.
Lawmakers said Thursday the Guantanamo facility hurts U.S. credibility with its allies. They asked that Gates give more thought to how it could be closed and detainees moved to a military prison.
"I hope that we can work to find some way to correct this problem, because as you say, it is a stain on our reputation and we can't afford it," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin.
Of the 385 detainees at Guantanamo, fewer than 100 would be considered hard-core, Gates said. He said he assumes there would be room in the military prison system for them.
But he said he did not know if using the military brigs would allow the U.S. to keep the detainees over the long term.
He noted that the U.S. is struggling to return several hundred of the detainees to their home countries, but those nations do not want them.
Al-Hawsawi is one of 14 "high value" detainees who are likely to be considered more dangerous. They were transferred to Guantanamo last September after being held in secret CIA prisons abroad. The hearings are being conducted to determine if they are enemy combatants who can be held indefinitely and prosecuted for war crimes.
In the hearing transcript, al-Hawsawi said he was told by al Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh about the September 11 plot one day in advance and was instructed to fly that same day from the UAE to Pakistan, where he met Binalshibh the following day. Binalshibh is also being held at Guantanamo.
Asked by a member of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal for his reaction to realizing he was "part of that operation," referring to the September 11 attacks, al-Hawsawi replied, "In the beginning I was surprised by the size of the operation. It was mostly a surprise to me."
The transcript does not fully explain the significance of the allegation that al-Hawsawi received thousands of dollars in money transfers from hijackers shortly before the September 11 attacks, other than establishing his association with them.
According to intelligence reports, al-Hawsawi was one of two key financial facilitators entrusted by Khalid Shaykh Muhammad -- who also is held at Guantanamo and has confessed to his role in the September 11 plot -- to manage the financing of the hijacking plan.
Al-Hawsawi told the hearing that he had met with four of the hijackers in the United Arab Emirates before September 11, but he did not say when or provide details. Asked about the wire transfers of money from two of the hijackers, he said he did not know why he was sent the money, totaling $17,860, on September 8 and 9.
At his hearing, al-Hawsawi acknowledged receiving money transfers and said, "I put it in my bank account in the United Arab Emirates. Only, I did not do anything else with it."
He spoke through a translator. The transcript covered the unclassified portion of the hearing; a classified session was held subsequently, for which no transcript has been released. The Pentagon is not permitting news organizations to attend the unclassified hearings for any of the 14 "high value" detainees at Guantanamo.