Guantanamo closure nears : Obama may get wish as White House battles opposition from US Defence Department

July 24, 2015 12:05 am

 

Obama’s
top advisers have reportedly been debating the best approach to closing
the facility in Obama’s final 18 months as president behind the scenes.
Photo / AP

The White House has announced that it is finalising a plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
A
spokesman said it was in America’s national security interest to close
the facility, which was opened by the Bush Administration after the
September 11 attacks to house detainees swept up in the “war on terror”.
The
White House said it was trying to close the camp hours after the New
York Times reported that the Defence Department was resisting
pressure from within the Administration to speed up moves to close the
facility in northwestern Cuba.
The spokesman said the plan was in
its “final stages”, although it will then have to be submitted to
Congress, where previous attempts to close Guantanamo have met stiff
resistance.
The continued existence of the camp has been a thorn
in the side of President Barack Obama who promised to close the camp
while campaigning for president, but was thwarted by Republicans in
Congress who blocked the transfer of detainees to the mainland.

The facility was opened in January 2002 as a site to hold and
interrogate terrorism suspects, including those involved in planning the
September 11 attacks, but swiftly became infamous for its treatment of
inmates.
A total of 116 detainees are currently held at
Guantanamo, of which 64 are considered too dangerous to be released. The
other 52 have already been recommended for transfer, but arrangements
must be reached with countries willing to accept the inmates on their
soil.
Among the detainees still in legal limbo on the island is
Shaker Aamer, a Saudi-born British citizen who has twice been cleared
for release, by the Bush Administration in 2007, and by Obama in 2009.
Aamer’s
continued detention is a source of embarrassment for British
authorities who have made repeated representations for the 46-year-old
to be freed.
Obama’s top advisers have reportedly been debating
the best approach to closing the facility in Obama’s final 18 months as
president behind the scenes.

Hurdles to closing the camp

• National Security
Closing
the camp requires safely relocating its 116 detainees. Previous
relocations have seen fighters returning to the battlefield and the US
would want to avoid a former inmate attacking the mainland.
• US Congress
The
Republican-controlled US Congress has blocked any federal funding to
transfer detainees to the US mainland where they could be held in a
maximum security prison and put on trial. A vote on the issue last year
fell along party lines.
• Legal issues
Many
detainees face vague conspiracy charges based on hearsay evidence
that would probably be inadmissible in a US federal court. Holding
detainees in open-ended detention on the US mainland is opposed by
human rights groups.
• Public opinion
Following
the rise of Isis and the beheading of Western hostages in Syria and
Iraq this year, sympathy for the plight of detainees has lessened,
increasing political risk for Obama of a release going wrong.
• International help
The
Administration needs more countries prepared to take detainees who are
willing to guarantee both their security and that the won’t be tortured
by governments with poor records on the use of torture.

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