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Group Tries to Blunt Right Wing on Closing Gitmo

by Pamela Hess

WASHINGTON - A group of retired generals and war veterans has launched a national campaign to rally support for White House plans to shutter the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President Barack Obama pledged to close the jail by January, but logistical woes and Republican roadblocks on Capitol Hill have made fulfilling that promise less likely. Much of resistance has been whipped up by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who warns that closing the prison would endanger national security.

The campaign, Close Gitmo Now, includes a relatively modest $100,000 ad buy on cable channels Wednesday, its message exhorting Congress to reject the "failed Bush-Cheney policies."

Obama won a modest victory Tuesday when Congress approved for his signature a plan to allow the government to continue to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. for prosecution. The plan was part of a larger $44.1 billion budget bill for the Homeland Security Department.

Tom Andrews, a former congressman from Maine who founded Close Gitmo Now, told reporters he is hoping for grass-roots support and donations to pay for future ad campaigns that will target the congressional districts of those on Capitol Hill who foment fear about closing the jail and bringing the prisoners to the U.S. to stand trial.

Andrews said 145 terrorists have been convicted in federal courts since 2001 without a similar outcry from Republicans, and the jail continues to be a recruiting tool for al-Qaida.

Andrews hopes his group will be a countervailing voice to the right wing, shifting media coverage away from the dangers of closing the jail to the danger of it remaining a symbol of American torture to would-be extremists.

"The campaign we launch today will not rest until the fear-mongering has been silenced," he said.

A group opposing the closure of the prison, Keep America Safe, said in a statement Tuesday that those held at Guantanamo are dedicated to killing Americans.

"Guantanamo Bay is a secure, safe, humane facility where terrorists can be held, and when appropriate, tried," said the group's board of directors, which includes the former vice president's daughter Liz Cheney. "Americans expect their President to defend them from terrorists, not usher terrorists into the homeland."

Administration officials have recently conceded that they will probably be unable to meet Obama's promised deadline. The administration brought in senior White House adviser Peter Rouse to help supervise the flagging Guantanamo review.

Andrews said the White House is aware of his group's effort but has not seen the ads and is not coordinating the campaign.

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