President Obama still pushing to close Guantánamo

President Obama said he may use executive action to close the military prison that violates international law. Many of the 107 remaining prisoners would be transferred to their home countries or to facilities in the US.

Photo by Shane T. McCoy/Reuters
Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police at Guantanamo Bay prison. President Obama still plans to close the facility despite Republican protests.

President Obama pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay military prison facility in 2007. It's still open. 

Yet the president indicated several times in recent months that he would soon release a new plan to expedite the release of the remaining 107 prisoners or transfer them to the United States, possibly relying on executive action to do so.

The prisoners are being held on a remote southern corner of Cuba, the island nation with which the United States has only recently reformed diplomatic ties. 

For many, the US prison for suspected terrorists has been synonymous with torture, secrecy, hunger strikes, and little or no right to due process and a speedy trial.

The international community has condemned US detainment of the prisoners since 2002 as illegal under international law. Former President George W. Bush’s administration began using the facility for enemy combatants in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. 

The United Nations in 2013 said indefinite imprisonment of detainees without charge or trial violated international law, calling on the US to close the military prison camp.

Navi Pillay, formerly of the UN High Commission on Human Rights, said at the time that there were no ambiguities over the long-term detention of the inmates, most of whom were held for years without charges.

"We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold," she said.

The American public has been consistently against closing Guantánamo. In June 2014, a Gallop poll showed 66 percent of Americans surveyed opposed closing the prison and transferring its prisoners to US prisons. Republicans remain more likely than Democrats to oppose closing the detention facility, although the majority of Democrats remain opposed.

And Republicanin Congress have repeatedly prevented Mr. Obama from closing the prison, with a ban on funding the transfer of prisoners to detention centers in the US. But Democrats also joined their colleagues across the aisle in opposing the closure during the president’s first term, banning funds needed bring the measure to fruition. 

With only a year left in office, the president may use executive powers to keep his promise.

Obama told Yahoo News he would push the plan ahead despite some reports that up to 10 percent of prisoners already released and returned to their respective countries have rejoined groups targeted by the US.

But Obama said many of those fighters aren’t significant enough to warrant keeping a prison open that many view as illegal and inhumane.

“The judgment that we're continually making is, are there individuals who are significantly more dangerous than the people who are already out there who are fighting?" Obama said. "What do they add? Do they have special skills? Do they have special knowledge that ends up making a significant threat to the United States?

In 2009 the White House said that roughly 800 individuals have been detained at Guantánamo as enemy combatants. Hundreds have been released or returned to their home countries with some of the remaining 107 detainees “eligible” for similar transfers. The president has released 134 prisoners since he entered the White House.

Obama has said since he first campaigned on the issue in 2007 that detainments were illegal, while more recently he noted they are used a recruitment tool for the Islamic State.

"The bottom line is that the strategic gains we make by closing Guantánamo will outweigh, you know, those low-level individuals who, you know, have been released so far,” he said. “We can keep the American people safe while shutting down that operation,” he said in November.

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