Obama unveils plan to close Guantanamo

US President Barack Obama unveils his long awaited plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US President Barack Obama (C) discusses administration plans to close the Guantanamo military prison while delivering a statement at the White House in Washington February 23, 2016.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled his long-awaited plan to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison that he calls a recruitment tool for terrorists.

According to the plan 35 detainees who were already cleared for release would be transferred to other countries, while the remaining would be sent to 13 potential facilities on US soil with the help of Congress.

The plan aims to accelerate periodic review boards, a system that with its current pace would take years to process all of the detainee cases.

“Our review board, which includes representatives from across government, will continue to look at all relevant information, including current intelligence. And if certain detainees no longer pose a continuing significant threat, they may be eligible for transfer to another country as well,” Obama said.

Obama added that they aim to use all legal tools to deal with the remaining detainees still held under law of war detention.

The US President said they are outlining reforms to improve military commissions which is currently processing 10 detainees, while pointing that “this type of use of military commissions should not set a precedent for the future.”

He said the best option for trying terrorism suspects is federal courts with its “outstanding record.”

“Terrorists like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon -- they were all convicted in our Article III courts and are now behind bars, here in the United States,” he said.

Obama did not identify the potential US facilities which would house detainees, however said maximum security prisons “work just fine” for such cases.

Obama said nearly $450 million was spent last year alone to keep the prison running. The new plan would be cheaper, officials said.

The transfer and closure costs would be $290 million to $475 million, an administration official told reporters, while housing remaining detainees in the United States would be $65 million to $85 million less expensive than at the Cuba facility, meaning the transfer bill would be offset in 3 to 5 years.

A Sailor assigned to the Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion stands watch over detainees in a cell block in Camp 6 at Guantanamo Bay naval base in a March 30, 2010 file photo provided by the US Navy.

The US president said keeping the facility open is contrary to US values and is harming relations with allies.

“It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees,” he said.  “This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11 --lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.”  

During his speech he reiterated that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush also wanted to close the controversial prison.

“Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other countries.  More than 500 of these transfers, by the way, occurred under President Bush,” he said.  

The Republican dominated US Congress has been using its powers to block efforts to close Guantanamo Bay, while Obama has frequently expressed his wish to shut down the camp.

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police while being processed in the temporary detention facility at Camp X-Ray at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in this January 11, 2002, file photograph.

In 2015 Obama signed a defence policy bill passed by Congress including provisions that make closing Guantanamo harder. However, Obama expressed his disappointment in Congress and suggested that the approved provisions were not necessarily binding.

In recent months, Obama has increased efforts on transferring inmates held in Guantanamo Bay to third countries in a move which indicates that he aims to close Guantanamo before he leaves office in 2017.

After the latest transfer of two inmates out of the facility, the number of people held in Guantanamo has been reduced to 91.

TRTWorld and agencies