1. Archive

Obama will renew efforts to close Guantanamo Bay prison

New York Times

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that he would recommit himself to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, a goal that he all but abandoned in the face of congressional opposition in his first term and that faces steep challenges now.

"It's not sustainable," Obama said at a White House news conference. "The notion that we're going to keep 100 individuals in no man's land in perpetuity," he added, makes no sense.

Describing the prison as a waste of taxpayer money that has had a damaging effect on U.S. foreign policy, Obama said he would try again to persuade Congress to lift restrictions on transferring inmates. He also said he ordered a review of "everything that we can do administratively."

But there is no indication that Obama's proposal to close the prison in Cuba, as he vowed to do upon taking office in 2009 after criticizing it during the presidential campaign, has become any more popular. Obama remarked that "it's a hard case to make" because "it's easy to demagogue the issue."

The plan for Guantanamo he proposed - moving any remaining prisoners to a supermax-style prison in Illinois - was blocked by Congress, which barred any further transfers of detainees onto domestic soil.

A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican Senate leader and one of the leading opponents of closing the prison, said on Tuesday that "there is wide, bipartisan opposition in Congress to the president's goal of moving those terrorists to American cities and towns."

Obama made his remarks following the arrival at the prison of more than three dozen Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists to help deal with a mass hunger strike by inmates, many of whom have been held for more than 11 years without trial.

As of Tuesday, 100 of the 166 prisoners were officially deemed to be participating, with 21 being force-fed a nutritional supplement through tubes inserted in their noses.

"I don't want these individuals to die," Obama said.

Conservatives and civil libertarians said that under existing law, Obama could be doing more to reduce the number of low-level detainees held at the prison.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., noted that the Obama administration had never exercised the power it has had since 2012 to waive, on a case-by-case basis, most of the restrictions that lawmakers have imposed on transferring detainees to countries with troubled security conditions.

Human-rights groups also urged Obama to direct the Pentagon to start issuing waivers, and said he should appoint a White House official to run Guantanamo policy with the authority to resolve interagency disputes.