President Barack Obama’s top military adviser said the Pentagon is working to meet the president’s deadline of closing Guantanamo Bay by January 2010.
"I’ve advocated for a long time now that it needs to be closed," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said on "This Week" Sunday, "President Obama made a decision very early after his inauguration to do that by next January and we’re all working very hard to meet that deadline."
But first, Mullen said they are working out a plan on how to handle some 240 detainees held at the military detention facility.
"It focuses on very difficult issues of what you do with these detainees who are there. There are some really bad people there. And so figuring out how we’re gonna keep them where they need to be, keep them off the battlefield, as well as close Gitmo itself is a real challenge."
Mullen confirmed a Pentagon report leaked this week that said an increasing number of detainees have "returned to the battlefield in the last year or two."
"There’s been hundreds and hundreds who have actually been released, both from Guantanamo over time and other detention facilities in Iraq and in Afghanistan," Mullen said. "My advice [to the president] is to make sure that these individuals don’t return. It’s gone up in recent months from a single digit number of five or six percent to the low teens."
Mullen dismissed criticism by former Vice President Dick Cheney this week against the president’s argument that Guantanamo Bay has served as an effective recruiting tool for al Qaeda.
"The concern I’ve had about Guantanamo in these wars is it has been a symbol, and one which has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us. So and I think that centers — you know, that’s the heart of the concern for Guantanamo’s continued existence, in which I spoke to a few years ago, the need to close it," Mullen said.
During his exclusive interview on "This Week" Mullen said he doesn’t believe recent suggestions by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran isn’t pursuing nuclear weapons for moral reasons.
"I still believe that Iran’s strategic objective is to achieve nuclear weapons, and that that path continues. Their leadership is committed to it," he said.
Mullen said he thinks Iran could achieve a nuclear weapon in one to three years, marking a slight shift from previous comments. In March, Mullen said Iran may have enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb between 2010 and 2015.
"Well, I think you make certain assumptions about what they can do. Most of us believe that it’s one to three years, depending on assumptions about where they are right now. But they are moving closer, clearly, and they continue to do that. And if you believe their strategic intent, as I do, and as certainly my Israeli counterpart does, that’s the principle concern."
The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman also said the Pentagon is developing an "implementation plan" for Obama detailing how the military would be affected if "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ were reversed.
"It’s my job as the senior military adviser to provide best advice, best military advice for the president," Mullen said, "And what I owe him is an objective assessment of what these changes would be. What they might impact on. And there could be speculation about what that might be, but my goal would be to achieve an objective assessment of the impact, if any, of this kind of change."
Mullen said U.S. forces would need some time to adjust to opening the military to gays and lesbians.
"I would need some time for a force that’s under a great deal of stress — we’re in our sixth year of fighting two wars — to look at if this change occurs, to look at implementing it in a very deliberate, measured way," he said, "And what I also owe the president, and I owe the men and women in uniform, is an implementation plan to achieve this based on a timeline that would be set, obviously, after the law is changed."