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Obstacles Remain in Obama’s Goal of Guantanamo Closure

  • Aru Pande

The Obama administration ended 2014 with the release of more detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On December 30, the Pentagon announced that three Yemenis and two Tunisians were flown to Kazakhstan for resettlement. President Barack Obama is working toward his goal to shut down the facility during his last two years in office.

With the transfer of five detainees to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, the Obama administration ended 2014 with the removal of 28 prisoners from Guantanamo last year - the largest number since 2009.

“I can tell you that it continues to be an important priority of this administration to ultimately transfer all of the detainees out of Guantanamo," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said when asked this week if the administration is accelerating detainee transfers.

Since taking office in 2009, Obama has not wavered in his promise to close the facility.

During a May 23, 2013 counterterrorism speech at National Defense University, the president called the prison a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.

“Given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al-Qaida’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened.”

While the United States works to resettle nearly half of the 127 remaining detainees cleared for release, one of the main obstacles to emptying Guantanamo is 2010 legislation that bans the transfer of prisoners to the United States.

Matthew Levitt, counter-terrorism fellow with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the issue of trying Guantanamo prisoners on U.S. soil has been politicized from the beginning.

“I think our court system is capable. I think our prison system is capable. I don’t think it would put Americans at any more risk than they are now by virtue of having other people like them in the country. It has become a political football,” said Levitt.

Ultimately, keeping Guantanamo open as the number of prisoners is whittled down may be difficult due to the cost - - at nearly $3 million a year per prisoner.

But Levitt says lawmakers should not make cost the rationale for closing the facility -- instead they should shut Guantanamo because it is the right thing to do.

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