USA First Look

Obama will make final Guantánamo prisoner transfers before Trump's inauguration

Despite failing to fulfill campaign promises to close the controversial detention facility in Cuba, President Obama has successfully reduced the number of detainees held there.

American military guards walk within Camp Delta, a military-run prison at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba, in 2006.
Brennan Linsley/AP/File
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Caption

Shrugging off opposition from US President-elect Donald Trump, the White House said Tuesday that it expects to announce the transfer of more Guantánamo Bay prisoners before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.

Mr. Trump, who vowed during his campaign to keep the controversial detention facility open and "load it up with some bad dudes," tweeted Tuesday that none of the current detainees should be released because they are all "extremely dangerous people" who "should not be allowed back onto the battlefield." A few hours later, however, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said Obama's long-term work toward closing the center will continue through his final day in office.

Although a final round of transfers will put Obama closer to fulfilling his campaign promise to shutter Gitmo entirely, he will almost certainly fall short – after facing sustained resistance from some Pentagon officials and members of Congress alike.

"It is still true that failing to close Guantánamo will go down as one of the most visible unfulfilled promises of the Obama years, and it is worth holding the president to task for that failure," University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck told Politifact last month. "But we ought not to allow that failure to obscure the important steps forward that we've taken at the same time – steps that may well be reversed by President Obama's successor."

The Guantánamo detainment facility, established in Cuba under US President George W. Bush following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, housed as many as 680 detainees at its peak in 2003. There were 242 when Obama took office in 2009, according to The Miami Herald, which has tracked prisoners and spending since the facility opened.

Of the 59 captives currently held there, 23 are cleared for release to other countries, the Herald reports. Ten have been criminally charged, and the remaining 26 are being held indefinitely as "forever prisoners."

In addition to dramatically reducing the number of Guantánamo detainees, Obama has managed to avoid sending any additional detainees to the center. Even so, some conservatives say Obama alone deserves the full blame for his failure to make good on his promise to shut the site down.

"President Obama failed to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay for one simple reason: He failed to spend the political capital necessary to do so in 2009/2010 when the Democrats were in the majority in the Senate and House," Cully Stimson, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for detainee affairs under Bush and a current senior legal fellow at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, told Politico.

The progress Obama did make toward his goal could be undone under Trump's incoming administration, especially since Obama's successor has surrounded himself with military advisers who favor keeping Gitmo open.

Retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly, whom Trump has tapped to lead the US Department of Homeland Security, openly questioned Obama's push to close Gitmo while Gen. Kelly oversaw the facility.

"They're detainees, not prisoners," Kelly told Military Times last year, later adding, "There are no innocent men down there."

This report includes material from Reuters.

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