President Obama called for the closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and encouraged the use of federal courts to prosecute terrorists, during a press conference in the White House Briefing Room Tuesday morning.
“Well, it is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantánamo, which is why, when I was campaigning in 2007 and 2008 and when I was elected in 2008, I said we need to close Guantánamo,” the president said, in response to a question about the ongoing hunger strike at the camp that has been reportedly joined by more than 100 prisoners.
“I continue to believe that we’ve got to close Guantánamo,” he said. “I think — well, you know, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
Obama issued a presidential memorandum calling for Guantánamo to be closed in 2009.
However, both Republicans and Democrats resisted moving the prisoners to a facility inside the United States. The 2011 Defense Authorization Bill prohibited “the use of funds to modify or construct facilities in the United States to house detainees transferred from United States Naval Station, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” The president signed the bill but announced that he would try to repeal or mitigate these restrictions in the future. Obama’s critics have pointed out that even if the president has objected to the camp’s location, he still supports the “core injustice” being practiced there: indefinite detention.
The president insisted Tuesday that the continued use of the camp was not sustainable.
“I mean, the notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s-land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried — that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop,” he said.
He then articulated the argument his government has made implicitly in the way it handled the arrest of the Boston bombing suspect: The federal justice system can handle terrorists who attack the United States.