Obama pushes US Congress to close Guantanamo prison

President Barack Obama walks up to the podium before speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

President Obama urged politicians yesterday to give his plan to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay a “fair hearing” and said he did not want to pass the issue to his successor when he leaves the White House next year.

The Pentagon plan proposes 13 potential sites on US soil for the transfer of remaining detainees but does not identify the facilities or endorse a specific one, administration officials said yesterday. 

Obama pledged to close the prison and move the detainees as a candidate for the White House in 2008. Lawmakers largely oppose moving the prisoners to the US, however, and his final attempt to get congressional backing is unlikely to gain traction.

“Let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Obama said in White House remarks.

“I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is.”

President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

The Guantanamo prisoners, held at a US naval station in southeastern Cuba, were detained by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The facility came to symbolize aggressive detention practices in years past that opened the US to allegations of torture.

The transfer and closure costs would be $290m to $475m (€263m to €431m), an administration official told reporters. Housing remaining detainees in the US would be $65m to $85m cheaper than at the Cuba facility, the official said.

Some 35 prisoners will be transferred from Guantanamo to other countries this year, leaving the final number below 60, officials said.

Obama is considering closing the facility by executive order if lawmakers do not back his proposal.

The plan would send detainees who have been cleared for transfer to their homelands or third countries and transfer remaining prisoners to US soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the US since 2011.

Though the Pentagon has previously noted some of the sites it surveyed for use as potential US facilities, the administration wants to avoid fueling any political outcry in important swing states before the November 8 presidential election.