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Obama Tries One Last Push To Close Gitmo

The Obama administration continues to negotiate with other nations about accepting as many as 20 Guantanamo Bay inmates, as its eight-year quest to close the once-controversial prison winds down.

“It is past time to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay,” said President Obama in a speech in Tampa, Fla., this past week. He credited the administration with reducing the number of "enemy combatants" at Gitmo from 242 when he was sworn in as president to 59 today.

More than 175 have been transferred to other nations through negotiations that have included safeguards preventing them from returning to the battlefield, Obama said.

More than 12 percent of the inmates transferred during the Obama years have either returned or are suspected to have returned to terrorist activities, according to a September report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Some released detainees were subsequently killed while planning terror attacks or in firefights with U.S. forces.

Among the remaining detainees, 20 are eligible for transfer, the New York-based group Human Rights First said last week. And one inmate has been transferred to Cape Verde, a nation of volcanic islands off of northwest coast of Africa, the Defense department reported on Dec. 4.

Congress seems content to keep the facility open. Both houses of Congress last week passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a provision continuing a ban on transferring inmates there to U.S. soil.

Congress passed the defense spending bill with veto-proof margins, effectively obstructing any move to close the facility.

Still, the administration seems ready to plow ahead in further efforts to reduce the number of inmates at Gitmo. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can between now and the president’s departure to reduce the prison population at Gitmo,” said presidential press secretary Josh Earnest during a news briefing Wednesday.

The prison’s existence forces U.S. taxpayers to pay an excessive cost for its operation and serves to help extremist groups’ recruiting efforts, administration officials claim. They provided no specific evidence of the prison facility being used in al Qaeda recruitment efforts and offered no estimates of how many additional persons joined the terror group mainly due to the Cuban detention center.

Officials in George W. Bush’s administration also favored closing it down, Earnest said last week, suggesting that there is bipartisan consensus among security experts for shuttering the facility. “But this is a political situation that members of Congress in both parties, to be fair, have allowed to persist that prevents this kind of common-sense policy from being implemented,” he said.

He added that painstaking work will continue, including the inter-agency Periodic Review Board’s examination of prisoner files, protection of U.S. security interests, and discussions with other nations to find suitable locations for detainees. Other nations are reluctant to accept detainees with significant subsidies from the U.S. since they view the prisoners as both a cost and a danger.

The remote detention center continues to cause harm to the world’s perception of the United States, said an associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, Julia Rodriguez, whose brother died during the 9-11 attacks on New York City.

“This offshore, secretive site in which our government has imprisoned people for over a decade, while denying them their basic constitutional rights, including speedy trial, fair trial, and in some cases not even charging them with crimes, should be seen as a deep source of shame for the U.S.,” Rodriguez said in an email to AMI Newswire.

Others, however, doubt whether Obama’s original policy goal of closing the facility that houses terrorism suspects was appropriate. And international observers who actually visited the prison -- after it was renovated after its hectic and controversial first year of operation -- have repeatedly adjudged it a model facility, operated humanely and efficiently.

“If he had looked at the histories of the prisoners at the time and negative attitudes of Congress and state governors reluctant to have prisoners or trials of accused terrorists in their states, he might have changed his promise to ‘I’ll try,’” Melvyn Levitsky, a professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, told AMI.

Trump is unlikely to close the detention facility, said Levitsky, a former ambassador to Brazil and Bulgaria. “It does seem to have a legitimate function for holding captured terrorists, as long as international norms are respected regarding their treatment,” he said.

Republicans in Congress, however, have stood their ground against closing Gitmo . Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) rebuked Obama when he approved the transfer of 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates this past summer.

“Radical Islamic terrorists who have killed or sought to kill Americans should not be transferred from U.S. custody – particularly when done behind the backs of American citizens …” Cruz said.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R- Kansas), who was chosen by Trump to head the CIA, echoed those sentiments.

“Terrorists who intend to destroy America should not be brought to our shores. Period,” Pompeo said after Obama proposed a plan to close the detention center earlier this year. “These Islamic extremists are dangerous, and GTMO is the right place to detain them.”