Washington — The White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay, which it has promised to close.
The idea, which would require approval by President Obama, already has drawn resistance from within the government. Army Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and other senior officials strongly oppose it, fearing that expansion of the U.S. detention facility at Bagram air base could make the job of stabilizing the country even tougher.
That the option of detaining suspects captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram is being contemplated reflects a recognition by the Obama administration that it has few other places to hold and interrogate foreign prisoners without giving them access to the U.S. court system, the officials said.
Without a location outside the United States for sending prisoners, the administration must resort to turning the suspects over to foreign governments, bringing them to the U.S. or even killing them.
In one case last year, U.S. special operations forces killed an Al Qaeda-linked suspect named Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter attack in southern Somalia rather than trying to capture him, a U.S. official said. Officials had debated trying to take him alive but decided against doing so in part because of uncertainty over where to hold him, the official added.
U.S. officials find such options unappealing for handling suspects they want to question but lack the evidence to prosecute. For such suspects, a facility such as Bagram, north of Kabul, remains necessary, officials said, even as they acknowledged that having it in Afghanistan could complicate McCrystal's mission.
"No one particularly likes any of the choices before us right now, but Bagram may be the least bad among them," a senior Defense official said.
With such a move certain to draw furious criticism by allies and human rights groups that the administration was re-creating the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials stressed that no final decisions have been made, and a White House spokesman declined to comment.
The idea of using Bagram emerged as the White House National Security Council solicited suggestions on how to handle detainees from the Justice Department, CIA and other government agencies.