Guantanamo prisoners won't be moved to US: White House

By Tabassum Zakaria
Jul 10, 4:13 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prisoners from Guantanamo Bay will not be moved to U.S. soil or tried in civilian courts and are in a "holding pattern" after a Supreme Court ruling against a military tribunal system, the White House said on Monday.

The Bush administration is trying to determine how to proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the tribunal system it set up to try the terrorism suspects was illegal.

Most of the inmates have been held for more than four years without charges at the detention facility built in Cuba after the September 11 attacks.

Bush has said the high court's silence on the use of Guantanamo as a prison signaled acceptance of his decision to hold prisoners at that facility.

Criticism of the treatment of detainees has led to international calls to close Guantanamo, where three prisoners committed suicide on June 10. The White House says Guantanamo cannot be closed until its prisoners are either repatriated or tried.

"We are not going to move them into places on American soil and to the civil justice system," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

"There are no plans at this point to move them into another facility except to the extent to which we are able to repatriate those who might, in fact, be tried and cared for elsewhere," he said.

The White House has interpreted the high-court ruling to mean that it must go to Congress to authorize a system for trying the prisoners. Congress planned to hold hearings this week.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he was consulting with the White House and planned to reach out to Democrats to craft legislation that likely will be on the floor in September.

"This does give us an opportunity to update our laws to respond to new realities of a post 9/11 world," the Tennessee Republican told reporters.

Frist said he expected Congress would address Geneva Convention issues on prisoners' rights as it worked on legislation, "and I think that is going to take a lot of debate."

Snow said the prisoners were in "a holding pattern to the extent that those who are not being repatriated are going to be staying there."

The White House argues that the terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay are different from prisoners taken in a war between armies of two countries and thus need to be handled differently.

"How do you bring those properly to justice?" Snow asked. "In some cases, it means repatriating and in some cases it's going to mean finding a proper way, acceptable to the Supreme Court, to conduct trials.

"I think there's a lot of head-scratching going on," he said. "And people really are trying to figure out what exactly does the Supreme Court opinion imply about the way in which we can proceed forward."