Obama’s Own Team Slowing Down Guantanamo Bay Closure
President Barack Obama’s well-known campaign promise that he would shutter Guantanamo Bay has run up against the Pentagon’s frustratingly slow approval process, the AirForce Times reports.
The delays indicate that the Obama administration might see its last days before Guantanamo Bay does. Only one prisoner this year has been moved out of the Bay and back to his home country of Algeria, aside from the exchange of Taliban members for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“The president would absolutely like to see more progress in our efforts to close Guantanamo,” Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said. “He wants it closed. He’s pushing his own team very hard, raising it weekly with me, with Secretary Hagel, with Secretary (of State John) Kerry. He also wants Congress to act to remove the restrictions in place that are making it even harder to move forward.”
Congress has previously hit back against moves from the administration to relinquish the prisoners, wielding its budget power as a weapon. But Congress does not represent the only almost insurmountable problem. Current law controversially doesn’t give the final say to the commander-in-chief. That power is reserved to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has repeatedly stated that he is going to continue to take all the time he needs time, in order to assess all the risks present.
However, the White House is equally concerned about blowback, that is, the threats which may arise from keeping the Cuban facility open. According to Obama, terrorists use Guantanamo as a recruitment tool, and so last year he appointed envoys in the State Department and the Defense Department, in an effort to speed up the shutdown process. Congress responded cooperatively by removing some of the restrictions surrounding prisoner transfer.
The State Department has actively been searching for countries to accept the detainees once they’re released, and 11 of the deals have been eagerly awaiting Hagel’s signature. Some of the deals have been waiting for months, with the delay causing upset in countries like Uruguay, which is reassessing whether it’s even now willing to accept detainees.
“Many countries are willing to help, but willingness is not everything,” said Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s envoy for Guantanamo closure. According to Lewis, Hagel is “absolutely committed to close Guantanamo,” but his team must first follow the law in assessing security concerns, and so is being very “careful and deliberative.”
In the meantime, Guantanamo Bay is still home to 149 terror suspects, and transferring all prisoners out is only the first step of many to shutter the project for good.
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