US Attorney General Eric Holder said today there may be 50 or more trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees as the Obama administration works to shut the US detention centre by early next year.
Holder discussed the plan before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the senior Republican called him “too soft” on terrorism while a second Republican lawmaker said he was on the right track in handling detainees.
Sen Jeff Sessions, a Republican, criticised Mr Holder for the release of Bush administration memos that authorised harsh interrogation techniques. Sen Sessions said the memos gave important information to America’s enemies.
Mr Holder told senators protecting Americans from terrorists is his top priority.
Under questioning from Sen Lindsay Graham, a Republican, Mr Holder outlined efforts to close Guantanamo.
Last week, the administration shipped 10 detainees from Guantanamo, leaving 229 still there. President Barack Obama has ordered centre to be closed by January.
Sen Graham said he expected about 25% of the inmates to be brought to civilian or military trial. Mr Holder said he thought that figure was “about right”.
Mr Holder did not commit to any specific figure and said authorities have only worked through about half the detainee cases so far.
That 25% figure would mean about 56 detainees would face a trial of some kind by US authorities. A separate group of detainees would be sent to foreign countries; a third group, the most difficult, would not be released or put on trial.
Holder said officials were discussing how to handle such suspects and whether new legislation would be required to hold them. He said even without a trial, a judge would have to review the basis for holding such detainees.
“The thought we had was that there would be some kind of review with regard to the initial determination and then a periodic review,” Mr Holder said.
Sen Graham agreed.
“I think you’re on the right track,” the senator said. “I want an independent judiciary basically validating what the intelligence community and the military says about this person.”