The notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba should be closed as soon as possible because negative publicity about the treatment of terror suspects has been "pretty damaging" to America's image, the chief of the US military has said.
"I'd like to see it shut down," Admiral Mike Mullen said, during his first tour of the detention centre since he became chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in October. "More than anything else it has been the image – how 'Gitmo' has become around the world, in terms of representing the US.
"I believe that, from the standpoint of how it reflects on us, it has been pretty damaging."
But the admiral said he had no idea when it might be closed or what would happen to detainees who have been held without charge and with restricted access to lawyers since the camp opened in January 2002. The jail would endure "until someone comes in and shuts it down", he said, adding: "I have no idea how long it will be. The political leadership would have to make that decision."
What happens to Guantanamo depends largely on the outcome of the US presidential election. At least one Republican candidate, John McCain, wants to shut the jail but his opponent Mitt Romney has said he would double its size.
The Democrats all favour shutting it down.