(AP) Sen. Mel Martinez said the Bush administration should consider closing the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects. He is the first high-profile Republican to make the suggestion.
“It’s become an icon for bad stories and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio,” Martinez said Friday. “How much do you get out of having that facility there? Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it, or can this be done some other way a little better?”
Martinez, who served in President Bush’s first cabinet and is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made his comments after Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden’s suggested that the prison in Cuba be shut down.
President Bush said Wednesday that his administration was “exploring all alternatives” for detaining the prisoners.
Human rights groups and former detainees say prisoners at Guantanamo have been mistreated. The Pentagon said last week that some U.S. personnel there mishandled prisoners’ copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
That disclosure followed a report in Newsweek, later retracted, that U.S. investigators had confirmed that a guard had flushed a prisoner’s Quran in a toilet. The White House blamed that report for violent protests in Muslim nations.
Amnesty International called the facility “the gulag of our time.” Former President Carter has also said Guantanamo should be closed.
Martinez, who strongly supported Bush’s efforts in Iraq during his campaign last year, also expressed concerns about progress in the war.
“I am discouraged by how long it has taken for us to begin to draw down some forces,” Martinez, R-Fla., said at the annual Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association convention.
He said he has had to write many condolence letters to the families of Floridians killed in Iraq.
“It brings home the importance of the decision to send men and women to go to war,” he said. “It has become a foreign fighters’ war against us there and the progress seems slow and difficult.