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Barack Obama is really trying to close Guantanamo Bay prison

“This is about closing a chapter in history,” the US President said today.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

US PRESIDENT BARACK Obama wants to use his final months in office to close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Speaking in the White House this morning, Obama said that the detention facility no longer ‘advances nationality security, but undermines it’.

He said experts have concluded that it drains resources and serves as a propaganda tool for terrorists – all for the sake of fewer than 100 detainees.

Last year, $450 million was spent on running costs.

At one time, there were nearly 800 prisoners held in the prison. Today, that number has been reduced to just 91. Of those, 35 have already been approved for release.

“It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upstanding the highest standards of rule of law,” Obama told reporters, adding that he did not want to “pass this problem on to the next president”. 

As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations – a model of the rule of law. But 15 years after 9/11… we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks – not a single one.

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Obama hopes to transfer those 91 detainees either abroad or to one of 13 possible prisons in the US at a cost of less than $475 million.

Despite the closure of Guantanamo being an issue which Obama, his predecessor George Bush and his 2008 election opponent Senator John McCain had all agreed on, it has since become a torrid partisan problem.

He has has tried for almost eight years to close the jail, but has been thwarted by Congress, the Department of Defense and some in his own party.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the most obvious path to closing the facility, banning the transfer of detainees to the United States.

Therefore, the plan submitted to Congress today is a long shot. Knowing that, he pleaded with voters and Congress to give it a fair hearing, “even in election year”.

I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo. The politics of this are tough. I think a lot of the American public are worried about terrorism and in their mind, the notion of having terrorists held in the United States rather than in some distant place can be scary.

“But part of message to the American people here is that we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists here in the United States because we threw the book at them. And there have been no incidents. We’ve managed it just fine.”

He urged Congress and voters to allow him to “close a chapter in history” and “do what is right for America”.

But Republican Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio swiftly hit back with a pledge to increase the Guantanamo population if elected.

Not only are we not going to close Guantanamo, when I am president, if we capture a terrorist alive, they are not getting a court hearing in Manhattan. They are not going to be sent to Nevada. They are going to Guantanamo and we are going to find out everything they know.

The Guantanamo Bay military prison was opened in January 2002 on a US naval base on a coastal spit of land in southeastern Cuba, leased from Havana under a treaty dating back to 1903.

It was set up after the 9/11 attacks under the administration of then-president George W. Bush to deal with prisoners who were termed “enemy combatants” and denied many US legal rights.

Perhaps the most notorious prisoner is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who along with four co-defendants is charged with plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Obama’s plan has been welcomed by Amnesty International. However, it is not happy about a proposal to move some of the detainees to the mainland for continued detention, describing it as “reckless and ill-advised”.

With reporting by AFP

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