WASHINGTON - The Obama administration plans to transfer six prisoners abroad from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, part of the effort to close the controversial facility by early 2010.
The detainees include those previously ordered released by U.S. courts or whose release has been approved through the Obama administration's review process, a Justice Department official said, declining to give further details.
The administration notified Congress around August 6-7 of the planned moves, starting a 15-day waiting period before the transfers can begin.
One, Mohammed Jawad, could be sent back to Afghanistan as early as Friday. But authorities are still considering criminal charges in U.S. court which accuse him of throwing a grenade that wounded two American soldiers and their translator in late 2002, so there is a chance he may not be released.
The Miami Herald reported that Congress was told two detainees would be moved to Portugal and two would be sent to Ireland. Already, 11 prisoners have been sent overseas since President Barack Obama took office in January.
Obama has pledged to close the prison by January 2010 after it was opened in 2002 by the Bush administration to house suspected militants in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
But lawmakers were unhappy that Obama had not presented them with a plan for closing Guantanamo and passed a law that set limits on how the administration could move detainees.
Under the law, the administration must wait 15 days before detainees can be sent overseas and at least 45 days before they can be brought to U.S. soil for trial and detention.
There are about 229 men still held at the facility on a U.S. Navy base in Cuba, which has been widely criticized for the detention of suspects for years without trial. Critics at home and abroad have also questioned the impartiality of hearings overseen by U.S. military judges.
HEARSAY AND RUMORS
Separately, a judge considering other detainees' requests to be freed from Guantanamo made a ruling on Wednesday that could make it harder to keep them imprisoned.
Judge Reggie Walton emphasized that the government cannot simply expect his court to admit hearsay evidence because it is all it has against a suspect or because producing other evidence would be too burdensome.
Instead, Walton ruled he will consider hearsay evidence on a case-by-case basis, rejecting what he described as the government's suggestion that because its hearsay evidence was internally consistent, it must be true.
Even the most widespread rumors are often inaccurate in part if not in whole, Walton wrote. The court's only point is that otherwise unreliable hearsay cannot be deemed reliable because there is other unreliable hearsay to the same effect.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency was reviewing the ruling.
Earlier this week, another judge on the court, Gladys Kessler, ordered the release of Yemeni Mohammed Al Adahi, who was accused by the U.S. government of being a bodyguard for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The Justice Department spokesman said the agency was also reviewing that ruling and all of the detainees' cases were being reviewed for possible prosecution in U.S. courts, military commissions or releasing them.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan)