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Obama renews push to close Guantánamo military prison

When he took office, President Obama pledged to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But Congress and much of the public are against such a proposal for the remaining 166 detainees.

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Other reports dispute the warning by some that large numbers of released prisoners would again take up the fight against the US. (Congressional Republicans claim that the recidivism rate is 28 percent.)

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A report this month by the New America Foundation finds that of the 603 detainees released or transferred abroad by the Bush and Obama administrations, 53 – 8.8 percent – “are either confirmed to be or suspected of engaging in militant activities against either the US or non-US targets.”

Of those, according to this report, 38 are confirmed or suspected to be engaging in militant activities against US targets.

In addition to opposition from congressional Republicans and some Democrats, Obama faces a majority public opinion that wants to keep the Guantánamo prison open.

A Fox News poll Wednesday asks, “Would you rather the United States continue to hold terrorist suspects in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay and put more terrorist suspects there, or is it time to move them to federal prisons in the United States and close Gitmo?”

This poll finds 63 percent of voters want to keep the detention facility open, while 28 percent say it should be closed and the terrorist suspects moved to federal prisons in the US. 

Earlier this month, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that 54 percent of those surveyed said the US should continue to operate Guantánamo, while 27 percent said it should be shut down.

“At the same time, 63 percent said the US should hold trials for the detainees held there, while only 20 percent said they are opposed to trials,” according to The Huffington Post report on the poll. “Given the choice, more respondents said these should be conducted before military tribunals (52 percent) than held in US courts (28 percent).”

Obama’s hour-long address Thursday covered a wide range of policy and philosophical issues related to the “The Future of Our Fight Against Terrorism,” as his speech was titled.

Guantánamo Bay came near the end, and it was the one segment interrupted by applause and by a woman in the audience – later identified as Medea Benjamin of the group Code Pink – shouting out her criticisms of Obama’s actions in regard to the controversial detention facility.

Although Obama has reengaged on Guantánamo and wants to close the facility, critics aren’t wholly satisfied.

“We are encouraged by his pledge to take concrete steps towards closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay,” said Virginia Sloan, president of The Constitution Project, a nonpartisan watchdog group, in a statement. “But actions speak louder than words.... If the president is truly serious about fulfilling his promise, he needs to immediately use the authority he currently has to begin transferring cleared detainees out of Guantánamo.”

Obama took flak from the right as well.

“The President’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia in a statement. “We knew five years ago that closing Guantanamo was a bad idea and would not work. Yet, today’s speech sends the message to Guantanamo detainees that if they harass the dedicated military personnel there enough, we will give in and send them home ....”

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