WASHINGTON (UPI) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday presented a strategy to Congress to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military detention center in Cuba, a move he said will improve national security.
“In our fight against terrorists like al-Qaida and [Islamic State], we are using every element of our national power. Our military, intelligence, diplomacy, homeland security, law enforcement — federal, state and local — as well as the example of our ideals as a country that’s committed to universal values, including human law and human rights,” Obama said during an address on Tuesday. “For many years it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it. This is not just my opinion — this is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military. It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.”
Obama said the United States spent $450 million in 2015 to operate Guantanamo Bay, with $200 million in “additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.”
“Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama added. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”
In the Pentagon plan, most detainees would be transferred to other countries, while detainees deemed too dangerous to transfer abroad will be relocated to detention facilities within the United States yet to be determined.
Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay is expected to receive fierce opposition from Republican leadership. It also faces a legal uncertainty, as a statute bans the military from taking Guantanamo detainees into the United States.
“Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other count,” Obama said. “More than 500 of those transfer by the way occurred under President Bush. Since I took office we’ve so far transferred 147 more.”
“As a result of these actions, today just 91 detainees remain,” Obama added. “Today, the Defense Department … is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all.”
Closing down Guantanamo Bay was a promise Obama made when he first took office seven years ago. Obama has argued that the detention center has outlived its usefulness and is too costly to maintain.
Obama previously said he would wait until “Congress has definitely said no” to a plan to close down Guantanamo Bay before he would make any decisions on executive orders. Congressional Republicans have halted Obama’s previous efforts to close down Guantanamo Bay for fears that if detainees are released to countries in the Middle East, they may return to alleged terrorist activities.
The Obama administration’s plan references 13 potential locations to transfer detainees to the United States, but no specific location was endorsed. The cost to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer detainees transfer ranges from $290 million to $475 million. Housing remaining detainees domestically would be up to $85 million cheaper than in Cuba — offsetting the cost of the closure within years.
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