CAPITOL HILL —
President Barack Obama may be finalizing plans to close down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama pledged to close Guantanamo on his second day in office seven years ago and has repeatedly vowed to shut it down before he leaves office in 2017. But he has been thwarted by Congress, which has passed restrictions on bringing any of the suspected terrorist detainees to the United States.
Asked on Wednesday at the White House briefing whether the president would consider issuing an executive order to unilaterally close down Guantanamo, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters: “We would like to work with Congress where we can.”
But Earnest also said the president "would not take anything off the table" to close down the prison.
The possibility that the president might take unilateral action prompted an angry reaction from some Republican lawmakers, including Senator John McCain: “It is disgraceful, because I have asked for six-and-a-half years for his administration to come forward with a plan – a plan that we could implement and close Guantanamo.”
McCain said Congress would use every option available to block Obama from using executive action to close the facility against Congress’ will.
McCain and Obama have been rivals since they faced off in the 2008 race for the White House. But they have long agreed on the need to close the infamous prison, saying it does not reflect American values and serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists.
But McCain says it is the president’s job to come up with a comprehensive strategy to close the prison. Most other Republican lawmakers think Guantanamo detainees should stay right where they are; the the prison is an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.
“I think Guantanamo detainees should be in Guantanamo.” The new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, told reporters Thursday. Ryan spoke just after the House of Representatives passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes more than $600 in defense spending.
The bill contains restrictions on transferring detainees from the naval base prison to the United States. The Senate could pass the bill as early as next week. It is not yet clear whether or not the White House would veto it.
Bringing detainees to US prisons
U.S. officials have considered transferring Guantanamo detainees to facilities in Kansas, South Carolina or Colorado. But Republican senators from those states strongly oppose the plans, citing national security concerns.
Guantanamo was opened in 2002, at one point holding 780 terrorist suspects, many of them captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Now 112 detainees remain. Almost half of them have been approved for repatriation or transfer abroad.
Twenty-eight retired senior U.S. military officers signed a letter to Obama supporting his efforts to close Guantanamo and bring some of the detainees to the United States. The officers say U.S. prisons house hundreds of convicted terrorists, and none have ever escaped.