US President Barack Obama on Thursday vetoed a $612 billion annual defence bill that renews provisions hindering the president from closing the controversial Guantanamo Bay Prison.
Obama said the legislation “specifically impedes [United States’] ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world.”
Obama says US is spending millions for each individual held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US is spending on average about $3 million for each detainee held in Guantanamo per year.
“Operating this facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” the Office of Management and Budget said.
During his presidential campaign and throughout his term in office President Obama has vowed several times to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
However, starting in 2009, US Congress has been using its power over spending to block efforts to close Guantanamo.
The provisions bans the use of funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the US for any purpose, such as detention in prisons in the US and trial in federal courts.
To fulfill his promise, Obama is planning to transfer as many detainees as possible.
54 of the 114 detainees, that are still in Guantanamo, have already been cleared for release by the prison’s interagency task force.
The remaining prisoners that could not be transferred and the “forever prisoners” that are “deemed too dangerous to release but not feasible for prosecution” due to insufficient evidence would be transferred to US super-max prisons.
By placing restrictions on prosecutions in federal courts, detention in US and transfers to foreign countries, the Republican controlled Congress is stalling the closing of the facility.
Only mechanism that the cases of detainees being reviewed is through military courts and periodic review boards.
It would take years to process all of the detainee cases through this system due to slow pace of current review mechanism.
Obama has been threatening a veto from the initial enactment of such restrictive provisions in the defence bills in previous years.
Yet, until this year, the president has signed the defence bills despite such provisions, with a strong criticism for the Congress attitude in his signing statement.
Republican majority Congress insists on keeping the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay Prison, arguing the release of detainees or transferring of them into US prisons pose a risk to national security.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said “If Guantanamo is ever to be closed, now is the time. And today the president clearly did the right thing by rejecting the bill’s restrictions on transferring Guantanamo prisoners who have been locked up without charge or trial for years on end.”
“He [Obama] needs to take decisive action ... before his legacy is irreparably tarnished by the stain of Guantanamo,” he added.
The prisoners in the detention camp have faced harsh treatment under “enhanced interrogation,” programme.
Although several officials argued these techniques are not illegal, it was later revealed in a Senate Intelligence Committee report that some of the practices used, such as waterboarding, can be defined as torture.
Some detainees who were cleared for release long ago have also been subjected to these techniques.