Military could meet Guantanamo deadline on short notice, commander says

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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — The military can comply
with a White House order to empty the detention center and clear all 221
war-on-terror captives off this remote base “with 10 days notice,”
the prison camps commander said Tuesday.

Navy Rear Adm. Tom Copeman told The Miami Herald and Fox
News in an interview that his 2,100-member team of guards and other support
staff can meet President Barack Obama’s Jan. 22, 2010, closure deadline right
through the eighth anniversary of the establishment of the controversial prison
camps.

“If they say on January 12, ‘Move them out,’ we can
meet the deadline,” he said, “given the proper amount of logistical
support.”

He ticked off such requirements as enough airplanes to move
them elsewhere and ferry runs across the bay that separates the prison camps
from the Navy base landing strip where C-17 Globemaster aircraft shuttle the
captives away.

Copeman is the ninth commander of the Pentagon’s showcase
detention center. Obama, by Executive Order, is preparing to shut it down by
Jan. 22. Congress has thrown a series of roadblocks before that deadline,
notably proposed legislation that would ban the transfer of the terror suspects
to U.S. soil for any reason other than federal trials.

Tuesday, the detention center housed 221 foreign men as
captives, 17 of them ordered set free by a federal judge.

The overarching challenge, Copeman said, was for the
policymakers in Washington, D.C., to find places to send the men.

Another key issue, he said, would be “how many
(detainees) you can safely get on an airplane with the right amount of
guards.”

Copeman said it would require multiple shuttles to take them
away, reminiscent of the 8,000-mile air bridge from Bagram, Afghanistan, that
the Pentagon set up in 2002 to open Camp X-Ray. The first 20 prisoners arrived
on Jan. 11, 2002, and it took eight shuttles to reach a total of 220 men and
boys as detainees nearly a month later, on Feb. 9, 2002.

The largest single cargo planeload at that time brought 36
detainees, some of them with battlefield wounds, inside a C-141 Starlifter
aircraft. The smallest airlift in the first month brought 14 men, all bound to
stretchers.

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