Washington: If Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri are caught, they will likely be sent to the US military prison camp at Guantanamo, CIA director Leon Panetta said on Wednesday.
Asked about how the United States would handle the possible capture of the al Qaeda chiefs, Panetta told senators the pair would probably be taken to the military base at Bagram in Afghanistan and then sent on to Guantanamo Bay.
"The process would obviously involve, especially with the two targets you just described, we would probably move them quickly into a military jurisdiction at Bagram for questioning and then eventually move them, probably to Guantanamo," Panetta told lawmakers.
But the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, suggested that their capture would spark a debate among government agencies about how to handle the al Qaeda figures.
"If we were to capture either one of those two luminaries, if I can use that term, I think that would probably be a matter of some inter-agency discussions, you know, what their ultimate disposition would be, and whether they would be tried or not," Clapper said.
The fate of terror suspects captured by the United States has been the subject of fierce debate in Congress, with many Republicans opposed to closing Guantanamo or trying detainees in civilian criminal courts.
President Barack Obama has vowed to close the controversial military prison at the US naval base in southern Cuba but has faced stiff opposition in Congress.
His spokesman Jay Carney said that notwithstanding the CIA chief`s comments, Obama still intended to close the prison camp, which he views as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda.
"The President remains committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because, as our military commanders have made clear, it`s a national security priority to do so," Carney told reporters.
US Attorney General Eric Holder has said he does not anticipate bin Laden would be captured alive.
US intelligence agencies have been trying to find bin Laden and Zawahiri since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and believe the two are somewhere in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.