US President Barack Obama blasts Congress for blocking Guantanamo closure

January 19, 2017 10:30 pm

President Barack Obama pauses during his final press conference at the White House on January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

Outgoing has condemned the Republican-dominated Congress for thwarting his plans to close the notorious American military prison at Bay, Cuba.
In a letter to the Republican leaders of Congress – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch — on Thursday, Obama said the prison “never should have been opened in the first place.”
“There is simply no justification beyond for the Congress’ insistence on keeping the facility open,” he stated.
“Members of Congress who obstruct efforts to close the facility, given the stakes involved for our security, have abdicated their responsibility to the American people,” Obama continued.
The closure of the Guantanamo prison was among the main campaign promises of Obama during the 2008 presidential election. Obama vowed to close it within a year when he came to office in January 2009. But his efforts had been continually blocked by Republican lawmakers in Congress.
The US Senate has confirmed that prisoners were regularly tortured at the notorious facility, which was set up by former US President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks to hold suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

Activists protest on Wednesday in Washington, DC, urging President Barack Obama to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison. (Photo from social media) 

Obama’s proposals to shift the inmates to prisons on US soil were also blocked by Republican lawmakers, who argued that the transfer would jeopardize the national security.
Nearly 800 men have passed through the Guantanamo prison since it was opened in January 2002. 
In recent months, the Obama administration has accelerated the rate at which detainees who have been approved for transfer are released from the detention center.
In his letter on Thursday, Obama revealed that four more prisoners have been transferred out of the prison, which means that only 41 detainees remain, down from the 45 the Pentagon said were there Tuesday.
“Of the nearly 800 detainees at one time held at the facility, today only 41 remain,” Obama wrote.
A US military official also confirmed the transfer of four additional detainees, but did not name the newly transferred men or what countries they were sent to.
The Guantanamo prison and its associated military commissions cost the Pentagon $445 million in fiscal year 2015. It currently costs about $7 million per detainee a year.
Obama repeatedly said the prison served as a “recruitment tool” for terrorist groups and was a waste of money.

A Navy guard patrols Camp Delta’s detainee recreation yard at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in July 2010.

“As the president has said, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep 41 men in an isolated detention facility in Cuba, year after year, is not consistent with our values or our interests as a nation,” stated a report accompanying Obama’s letter.
The report concluded that the Guantanamo prison “undermines our standing in the world, and it is viewed as a stain on our longstanding record of upholding the highest standards, of adhering to the rule of law. It is long past time to close this chapter in our history.”
Donald Trump, who will swear-in as the US president on Friday, has embraced Guantanamo and promised to bring back water-boarding, one of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on suspects of the so-called war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. He has said he wants to fill Guantanamo up with “bad dudes.”
Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said on Thursday, “We are extremely concerned that President-elect Trump will make good on his threat to subject more people to indefinite detention without charge or trial.”
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