WASHINGTON - US Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged Tuesday it will be "difficult" to close Guantanamo Bay before President Barack Obama's January 2010 deadline, amid a litany of legal and political challenges.
"It's going to be difficult for us to make the January 22 deadline," Holder told reporters, citing difficulties in relocating some detainees.
Holder and other administration officials have insisted the prison camp will eventually be closed, despite Republican and Democratic opposition to moving detainees to US soil.
"I think at the end, Guantanamo will be closed," Holder said Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a US rights group, said it was "very concerned" about Holder's comments, noting the prison "has become a symbol of lawlessness and cruelty."
About 80 detainees are eligible for release from the US naval base, located in southern Cuba, where 223 terror suspects are still held. The administration expects another 60 will be prosecuted.
Holder said a task force assigned to review detainee cases, with the goal of determining whether individuals should be released, prosecuted or detained without charge, has "gone through all the files."
The government team has encountered setbacks as it sifts through complex cases that include evidence possibly tainted by abuse.
It has also struggled to persuade other countries to take some of the detainees, with only a trickle of prisoners -- some 27 -- transferred since Obama's inauguration in January.
"As important as when Guantanamo is closed is that it is closed right," ACLU National Security Project director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.
"In a democracy, there is no room for a system of detention that allows human beings to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial."
The group, which represents some Guantanamo detainees, repeated its calls for the government to file charges and prosecute the prisoners in US federal courts.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted last month it would be "tough" to close the detention center by January, becoming the first administration official to publicly recognize Obama's self-imposed deadline might not be kept.
More than 550 detainees have been transferred from Guantanamo since it was opened by former president George W. Bush in January 2002, according to the Defense Department.
Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to close for good the facility that has become a symbol of "war on terror" abuses.