The blueprint comes seven years after Obama made an Oval Office vow to permanently shutter the prison for enemy combatants, but it already faces objections from Republicans and legal obstacles they have placed to transferring Guantanamo detainees to U.S. prisons.
Obama nonetheless said emptying the prison would move the country past what he described as a troubled era of wartime behavior.
“The plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened. This is about closing a chapter in our history,” he said during short remarks at the White House.
“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”
Obama outlined a blueprint that involves transferring the bulk of remaining detainees to other countries and moving the rest — who can’t be transferred abroad because they’re deemed too dangerous — to an as-yet-undetermined detention facility in the United States.
But Republicans in Congress wasted no time in voicing their opposition to the administration’s proposal.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the President’s plan “fails to provide critical details required by law,” adding “It is against the law — and it will stay against the law — to transfer terrorist detainees to American soil.”
John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, also criticized the strategy, saying it was “not a credible plan for closing Guantanamo, let alone a coherent policy to deal with future terrorist detainees.”
A major concern of lawmakers has been the risk that released detainees will return to terror. Underscoring the threat, on Tuesday Spain, working with Moroccan intelligence officials, announced the arrest of four individuals in anti-terror operations in Spain and Morocco, including one who had spent time at Guantanamo.
U.S. officials said Tuesday morning the plan would identify 13 potential U.S. sites for transfers.
The officials added, however, that funding restrictions prevented Pentagon planners from determining precise details for converting U.S. facilities into detention centers for accused terrorists. Since current law prevents using funds to close the prison, they weren’t able to conduct as thorough a cost calculation as they otherwise might have.
Options for housing prisoners in the U.S. include the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado; the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas; and the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Pentagon officials visited those sites last year to develop “prototype” plans for converting them into detention facilities.
The additional sites included in Tuesday’s plan include other federal and military prisons. The closure plan does not identify a specific facility, though congressional language mandating the plan called for a location to be specified. (Courtesy CNN)