GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - The chief of the U.S. military said Sunday he favours closing the prison here as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of the United States.
"I'd like to see it shut down," Admiral Mike Mullen said in an interview with three reporters who toured the detention centre with him on his first visit since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last October.
His visit came two days after the sixth anniversary of the prison's opening in January 2002. He stressed that a closure decision was not his to make and that he understands there are numerous complex legal questions the administration believes would have to be settled first, such as where to move prisoners.
Mullen, whose previous visit was in December 2005 as head of the U.S. navy, noted that President George W. Bush and Defence Secretary Robert Gates also have spoken publicly in favour of closing the prison. But Mullen said he is unaware of any active discussion in the administration about how to do it.
"I'm not aware that there is any immediate consideration to closing Guantanamo Bay," Mullen said.
Asked why he thinks Guantanamo Bay, commonly dubbed Gitmo, should be closed, and the prisoners perhaps moved to U.S. soil, Mullen said, "More than anything else it's been the image - how Gitmo has become around the world, in terms of representing the United States."
Critics have charged that detainees have been mistreated in some cases and that the legal conditions of their detentions are not consistent with the rule of law.