Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba) (AFP) – Closing Guantanamo prison may still top the White House’s agenda, but the impossible headache that comes with it means President Barack Obama may have to postpone his campaign promise indefinitely.
Despite repeated vows to close Guantanamo Bay, the controversial U.S. military detention facility still holds 164 “war on terror” suspects. Most have never been charged or tried and face indefinite detention for so far unproven suspicions.
Obama, who vowed to close Guantanamo Bay in one of the first acts of his presidency in 2009, renewed his pledge Monday as he met with two officials he appointed to accomplish the task.
He told the pair, Clifford Sloan, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo Closure, and Paul Lewis, who holds the same position at the Pentagon, he remains adamant that the camp must be closed.
Obama also urged Congress to lift restrictions on detainee transfers, with his spokesman Jay Carney saying they have “significantly limited our ability to responsibly reduce the detainee population and ultimately close the facility.”
“The Guantanamo facility continues to drain our resources and harm our standing in the world,” Carney added.
But partly due to obstruction by Congress and the failure to find nations willing to take repatriated prisoners, as well as fears the inmates could either be tortured or return to violence in their home country, he has failed to live up to his promise.
“I don’t see it ever closing,” said David Remes, a lawyer representing several Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
“It’s not a question of philosophical attitude… but they can’t be transferred for practical reasons.”
Guantanamo chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins acknowledged the fundamental challenges striking at the core of the effort to shutter the prison set up by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on US soil.
“What do you do if you can’t try them, transfer them or release them?” Martins asked in an interview about the prisoners.
“It’s a difficult problem, one of the hardest problems in modern national security policy and law.”