President Obama Ponders Executive Action To Close Guantanamo If Congress Won’t Budge
President Barack Obama has wanted to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay since he took office in 2009, and as his second term comes to a close, he’s presented a plan to Congress that will do just that.
But few have any faith that the Guantanamo closure plan will make any headway with Republican lawmakers, and Obama has reportedly not ruled out the option to use executive action, NBC News reported.
“It’s been clear that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security,” Obama said from White House Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world.”
Congress has been demanding this Guantanamo closure plan for months, and an anonymous source told Fox News that it doesn’t include all of the required elements. So far, only the broad stokes of the plan are known to the public.
The facility was built on a U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, in 2002 to house suspected terrorists off American soil after 9/11. In 2003, 680 detainees were held there, and 245 remained when Obama took office. Right now, 91 prisoners are still at Guantanamo, and 35 should be transferred to other facilities this summer — they’ve already been determined to be eligible.
Obama's plan to close Guantanamo and transfer detainees considers 13 different US locations https://t.co/ZidGLjnWUv pic.twitter.com/aTDVpz5RaZ
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 23, 2016
Obama‘s plan depends on the transfer of 30 to 60 prisoners to the U.S., and the plan includes 13 suggestions for where they could be transferred, including seven existing prisons. According to CNN, options are the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado; the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas; and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Six more sites on military bases are also a possibility.
The Pentagon has already visited the sites to determine how to convert them to detention facilities.
The other prisoners of the remaining 91 could be sent to other countries. Their cases would be reviewed under an accelerated process to determine if they pose a threat. If they don’t, they can be transferred. Those deemed too dangerous must remain in U.S. custody.
Closing Guantanamo could save the government $65 to $85 million every year, which is one of the reasons Obama wants to close it.
However, there are problems with Obama’s plan. It doesn’t name a preferred site, though Congress required one to be specified. It also provides only cost estimates meant to start discussion on Guantanamo’s closure; funding restrictions kept the Pentagon from figuring out more precise numbers, but Congress demanded specifics.
The GOP is widely expected to oppose Obama’s closure plans. The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on it and the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, has already said that anything less than the required terms will not be accepted.
As Obama announces his plan to close Guantanamo, a look inside the prison: https://t.co/igV8siMV3r pic.twitter.com/y587O4VNhf
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 23, 2016
Further, members who represent South Carolina, Kansas, and Colorado oppose housing detainees in their states, and other Congressman argue that a new facility would pose a national security risk and even a terror attack. Supporters of closing Guantanamo argue that holding terrorists there without charges or a promise of release or trial inspires future terrorists.
New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte doesn’t buy it.
“While the administration asserts that transferring detainees and closing Guantanamo is in America’s national security interests, they refuse to level with the American people regarding the terrorist activities and affiliations of the detainees who remain at Guantanamo.”
Obama may be considering executive action if negotiating with Congress goes nowhere, but experts insist this move is impossible. Obama recently signed two bills, to which GOP lawmakers added language that prevents the president from moving Guantanamo prisoners into the U.S.
“It’s against the law now to establish another detention facility,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter last month. “So, therefore, we have to get the support of Congress.”
But it seems Obama is determined to fulfill this particular campaign promise.
“When I first ran for president, it was widely recognized the facility needed to close. (Then) suddenly, many of those who said it needed to close backed off because they were worried about the politics … I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president.”
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]