President Barack Obama released a 17-minute statement on Tuesday and an official document outlining his plan for closing Guantanamo Bay prison. One of the President’s first foreign policy goals after taking office in January 2009 was to end the detentions at the facility on Cuban soil.
Republicans in Congress have long doubted Obama’s ability to close the prison and have more recently come to support its continued existence, arguing that it would be a threat to national security if prisoners were to be moved to the U.S.
“I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?” Obama said.
Unveiling the plan from the Roosevelt Room at the White House, the president made clear his frustration at how what was once a bipartisan goal shared by both his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and his 2008 Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, had become a partisan dispute. He urged Congress to give his plan a “fair hearing,” saying the prison wasted money, raised tensions with allies and fueled anti-American sentiments abroad.
Currently 91 detainees remain at Guantanamo, the rest have been transferred to other countries. When Obama ordered the closing of the prison in 2009 there were 242. Remaining prisoners are barred from being brought into the United States by Congress and several dozen are not eligible for transfer.
It will be up to Congress to overturn the 2010 ruling that prisoners cannot be transferred to the U.S. However, given the political climate and
Fred Kaplan wrote in a Slate article on the Republican-led effort against closing Guantanamo:
What they don’t seem to realize is that, according to the latest figures from the Justice Department, maximum-security prisons inside the United States already house 349 convicted terrorists. Their presence in these massive facilities has not made life the slightest bit more perilous to anyone outside their walls.
Both Democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton have issued statements in support of the Presidents efforts. Cruz, Trump and Rubio, however, have given speeches voicing strong disapproval for the release or relocation of any detainees.