WASHINGTON — The U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has to be closed because of the damage it has done to America's reputation and to its ability to achieve foreign policy goals, the top U.S. intelligence officer told a House panel Wednesday.
"Countries won't deal with us. Our popularity's down. We don't have blue chips to trade," national intelligence director Dennis Blair told the House Intelligence Committee.
In one of his first acts in office, President Obama signed an executive order to close the prison next year. The order also convened a task force to determine what to do with the roughly 250 suspected terrorists held there now and prisoners taken in the future.
The island prison, created by the Bush administration in 2002, has been criticized worldwide over allegations of abuse of prisoners and the confused legal status they have.
Nearly 800 prisoners have been imprisoned at Guantanamo; only a handful have been charged. Many have been released to their home countries or freed outright. More than a dozen Chinese Muslims have been ordered freed, but they have not been returned to their homes for fear they will be jailed and tortured there.
Blair also said that al-Qaida is still hoping to pull off another spectacular attack on the United States that kills many people. U.S. intelligence believes there are al-Qaida sympathizers in the country, he said.
The most dangerous threat to the United States is weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists, he said.
"It is people who are not deterrable getting hold of weapons that could cause a lot of deaths," Blair said.
One of the world's most notorious nuclear technology proliferators, Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, was recently released from house arrest in Pakistan. Blair said that despite his release Khan remains under government restrictions that would prevent him from further proliferation. He did not specify what those restrictions are.