President Obama said on Tuesday that his he still believes that the Guantanamo Bay prison does not serve American security interests and said that his administration will try again to close Gitmo.
“It is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantanamo,” Obama said when asked during a White House press conference about the ongoing hunger strike crisis there. “I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” he added, pledging to take another shot at closing Gitmo:
OBAMA: It needs to be closed. Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of folks who are in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country origin or potentially a third country. I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively and I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interests of the American people. And it’s not sustainable.
Obama signed an executive order in January 2009 vowing to close Gitmo within one year but largely because of congressional intransigence, the facility remains open today, housing 166 inmates, of whom 100 are currently on hunger strike. The State Department reassigned the special envoy for closing Gitmo in January and Obama did not reappoint anyone to fill the position.
However, the Obama administration does have some room to maneuver. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) recently urged the White House to take steps to repatriate some of the 56 Yemeni detainees who are cleared for release. The U.S. halted the Yemeni process after it was learned that militants in the country trained the so-called underwear bomber in 2009; but new Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s eagerness to take on al-Qaeda could calm recidivism fears.
CAP expert Ken Gude praised Obama’s announcement and told ThinkProgress that current law allows the president to transfer detainees cleared for release. “The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act made important changes to previous restrictions granting the Secretary of Defense more discretion in making determinations to transfer Guantanamo detainees,” Gude says, adding: “President Obama should instruct Secretary of Defense Hagel to use that authority. If we have learned one thing since President Obama ordered Guantanamo closed it is don’t wait for Congress. The President has the power right now to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. He should use it.”