A key report ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama as part of his effort to close the internationally condemned Guantanamo prison will be delayed six months, but officials insisted on Monday they were still on track to shut it down by January, Reuters reported.
Amid divisions between lawmakers and the administration over the fate of Guantanamo inmates, Obama aides said a task force developing a new policy on terrorism detainees would miss its Tuesday deadline for offering him a full list of recommendations.
Instead, the government panel issued an interim report late on Monday that provided an overview of the options, including prosecution in U.S. civilian courts and by military commission or the transfer of suspects to other countries.
A separate government task force reviewing detainee interrogation rules also fell short of its Tuesday deadline and was granted an extra two months to submit a final report, senior administration officials said.
Obama has promised to close the prison at a U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by January, saying it had damaged the United States' moral standing in the world.
It was opened under former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and has drawn international criticism for holding prisoners indefinitely, many without charge. Close to 230 inmates remain there.
Though postponement of the two reports could raise questions about Obama's timetable, officials said his target date for shuttering Guantanamo -- within a year of his inauguration in January this year -- remained unchanged.
"Are we on target to meet the deadline?" one official said at a briefing for reporters. "The answer is yes."
Officials said extensions were sought -- and granted -- in order to conduct the most comprehensive reviews possible as well as to consult more thoroughly with members of Congress.
Obama has faced strong opposition among lawmakers, including those in his own Democratic party, to transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil for detention and trial.
In May, Congress demanded a detailed plan on closing Guantanamo before they would grant him the necessary funds to do it.
Obama went on the offensive, insisting that some terrorism suspects would be tried in U.S. courts and would be held in super-maximum-security U.S. prisons while others could be tried by military commissions or transferred to other countries.
Task forces charged with paving the way for the Guantanamo closure reported progress on Monday on deciding the fate of Guantanamo prisoners.
"We are over half way through reviewing the detainees that are at Guantanamo," an official said. "We have made substantially more than 50 decisions to transfer detainees and we have made a significant number of decisions to prosecute detainees."
Another official said Washington was also making headway in convincing other countries to accept prisoners, though some have made clear they do not want any publicity on the subject.
"We're making good progress with a number of European countries," the official said. So far, however, only a small number of inmates have been taken in by other governments, including Saudi Arabia, Chad, Iraq and Bermuda.
The prison has long been the target of criticism by human rights groups and many foreign governments, which accused the Bush administration of condoning torture of inmates held there.