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Obama administration defends transferring Gitmo detainees

By Charley Keyes, CNN Senior National Security Producer
  • House subcommittee holds hearings on Guantanamo Bay detention facility
  • Special envoy: One method for getting other nations to take detainees is to pay them
  • GOP members say risk of detainees' "re-engaging" is still high, and will increase
  • Plan to hold military trials at the base will delay its closing indefinitely

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration repeated its determination Wednesday to close the terrorist detention facility at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and defended its policy of releasing some detainees despite congressional opposition.

The administration's point man on closing the facility, Daniel Fried, testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that Guantanamo's existence "continues to do more to harm than improve our security," Fried said. "Closing it remains in the national interest."

Fried, whose formal title is special envoy for the closure of the Guantanamo Detainee Facility, gave new details about how the United States persuades other countries to take prisoners released from Guantanamo, including paying them.

While he would not give a specific number in a public setting, Fried said the amounts were "under $100,000."

He said the United States follows up with governments accepting detainees to determine the success of resettlement and the potential for detainees' "re-engaging" in terrorist activities.

Under the Obama administration, 126 detainees have been approved for transfer and 59 of those still remain at the Navy base. A total of 171 men still remain in detention at Guantanamo, including those awaiting prosecution and those deemed too dangerous to release but not feasible for prosecution. During the Bush administration, 537 detainees were transferred, including almost 200 to Afghanistan.

The Obama administration announced last week it would hold military trials at Guantanamo for the suspected conspirators of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. That decision will delay indefinitely plans to close the detention facility.

Republican representatives renewed warnings of the past and future risks that detainees will return to the fight.

"I believe the high rate of re-engagement is alarming," Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, said in a statement at the start of the hearings, of which he is chairman.

"The intelligence community assesses that the rate of re-engagement is likely to increase in the future, in part because detainee re-engagement activities do not typically become apparent until two or more years after detainees have left Gitmo," Wittman said.

The subcommittee was briefed behind closed doors before going into public session.

Wittman said the director of national intelligence had predicted that 25 percent of detainees transferred or released from Guantanamo since 2002 are confirmed to have resumed -- or are suspected of having resumed -- terrorist or insurgent activities.

Wittman suggested the 1-in-4 estimate may be too low, and that future releases pose a direct threat to Americans.

"You are talking about the worst of the worst, so these folks are probably more likely to engage on the battlefield," Wittman said. "Let's make sure the policy is right as far as determining resettlement and repatriation is concerned."

The State Department continues to negotiate with other countries to accept Guantanamo prisoners.