Bush administration officials confirmed Friday that closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camps is not imminent and, as if to underscore that, the Pentagon moved a new captive from Afghanistan to the detention center for interrogation.
Haroon al Afghani "has admitted to serving as a courier for al Qaeda senior leadership, " the Defense Department said in a 250-word statement that called Guantánamo interrogations "essential" in the war on terrorism.
Prison camp and Pentagon spokesmen would not say how long Afghani had been in custody or which agency had interrogated him or where.
They also declined to say whether Afghani arrived in need of medical treatment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
However, the statement said the U.S. had "significant information" that Afghani was a commander of Hezb-e-Islami/Gulbuddin, a Muslim jihad group formed to fight the Soviet communist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s.
The HIG, as it is known, is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations because of its ties to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon also alleged that Afghani "commanded multiple HIG terrorist cells" that set off roadside bombs in Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan and had regular contact with both senior al Qaeda and so-called HIG leadership.
MEETING CALLED OFF
The Pentagon issued its statement Friday, about the same time that the White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was telling reporters that a proposed meeting on how to close the camps and where to move the prisoners was called off late Thursday -- after an Associated Press report said that members of the Bush administration were increasingly tilting toward closure.
Bush's inner circle has been divided over the issue, with Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales opposing the prison camps' shutdown and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice supporting their closure.
"What I can tell you is that meeting was not a decisional meeting. There was nothing imminent coming out of that meeting, " said Perino, according to a White House transcript.
"While the president has said we want to make sure that we close this facility as quickly as possible, he's not put a deadline on it because they're complex issues; we have to make sure that we handle it appropriately, " Perino added.
Friday's Pentagon announcement said the arrival of Afghani left the prison camp population at "approximately 375."
In recent weeks, two Tunisians were sent to their homeland over the objection of one of them, who had sought political asylum in Pakistan; four were sent to Yemen, and the U.S. military repatriated to Saudi Arabia the shrouded body of a Saudi captive whose suspected suicide May 30 in a maximum-security cell is under investigation by the Navy's version of the FBI.
At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said Afghani was not being classified as a "high-value detainee" like alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other men who were once held by the CIA and are now kept apart from the general captive population.
Mohammed's transfer with the other men, in September, marked the first expansion of the detainee population since 2004.
Since then, the United States has also transferred to Guantánamo two other captives for interrogation -- both from the Horn of Africa.