GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – The chief of the U.S. military said Sunday he favors closing the prison here as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been “pretty damaging” to the image of the United States.
“I’d like to see it shut down,” Adm. Mike Mullen said in an interview with three reporters who toured the detention center with him on his first visit since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last October.
His visit came two days after the sixth anniversary of the prison’s opening in January 2002. He stressed that a closure decision was not his to make and that he understands there are numerous complex legal questions the administration believes would have to be settled first, such as where to move prisoners.
The admiral also noted that some of Guantanamo Bay’s prisoners are deemed high security threats. During a tour of Camp Six, which is a high-security facility holding about 100 prisoners, Mullen got a firsthand look at some of the cells; one prisoner glared at Mullen through his narrow cell window as U.S. officers explained to the Joint Chiefs chairman how they maintain almost-constant watch over each prisoner.
Mullen, whose previous visit was in December 2005 as head of the U.S. Navy, noted that President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also have spoken publicly in favor of closing the prison. But he said he is unaware of any active discussion in the administration about how to do it.
“I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us that it’s been pretty damaging,” Mullen said.