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Obama details plan to close Guantanamo; GOP candidates say they will keep prison open

"Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it," Obama said.
By Andrew V. Pestano and Doug G. Ware   |   Updated Feb. 23, 2016 at 6:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday detailed the Pentagon's plan for finally shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay military detention center in Cuba -- a move he said serves as an upgrade to national security.

"In our fight against terrorists like al-Qaida and [the Islamic State], we are using every element of our national power. Our military, intelligence, diplomacy, homeland security, law enforcement -- federal, state and local -- as well as the example of our ideals as a country that's committed to universal values, including human law and human rights," Obama said during an address from the White House on Tuesday. "For many years it's been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. It undermines it. This is not just my opinion -- this is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military. It's counterproductive to our fight against terrorists because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit."

Obama said the United States spent $450 million in 2015 to operate Guantanamo Bay, with $200 million in "additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees."

"Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values," the president added. "It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law."

In the Pentagon plan, most detainees would be transferred to other countries, while detainees deemed too dangerous to transfer abroad will be relocated to yet-to-be-determined detention facilities in the United States.

"Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other count," Obama said. "More than 500 of those transfer by the way occurred under President Bush. Since I took office we've so far transferred 147 more."

"As a result of these actions, today just 91 detainees remain," Obama added. "Today, the Defense Department ... is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all."

Shuttering Guantanamo Bay was one of the first promises Obama made when he took office seven years ago. Obama has argued that the detention center has outlived its usefulness and is just too expensive to maintain.

The Obama administration's plan has four main elements:

First, it will continue to secure the already-approved transfer of 35 detainees to other countries. Second, the plan will accelerate the periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine if their internment is necessary. Third, the administration will attempt to use "all legal tools" to handle the 10 detainees currently in some stage of military commission process. Finally, the administration will try to work with Congress to house remaining detainees currently in the commission process or deemed too dangerous for transfer abroad to a location in the United States.

An American Flag is seen through razor wire at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2010. Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined his administration's plan to close the naval prison and transfer the remaining detainees to other facilities overseas and in the United States. Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI

"Let us do what is right for America," Obama said, later citing former President George W. Bush, who has also proposed closing Guantanamo. "Let us go ahead and close this chapter."

The cost to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer detainees transfer will reportedly range from $290 million to $475 million. Housing the remaining detainees in the United States would be as much as $85 million cheaper than keeping them in Cuba, officials said.

Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay is expected to receive fierce opposition from Republican leadership. It also faces a legal uncertainty, as a statute bans the military from taking Guantanamo detainees into the United States.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as well as Republican presidential contenders, criticized Obama's plan Tuesday.

"After seven years, President Obama has yet to convince the American people that moving Guantanamo terrorists to our homeland is smart or safe," Ryan said in a statement. "And he doesn't seem interested in continuing to try. His proposal fails to provide critical details required by law, including the exact cost and location of an alternate detention facility."

"This morning I watched President Obama talk about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay -- which, by the way we are keeping open," Donald Trump said. "And we're going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We're going to load it up."

"Maybe in our deal with Cuba, we get them to take it over and reimburse us because we're probably paying rent," he added.

"This makes no sense to me," Sen. Marco Rubio said at a rally in Las Vegas. "Number one, we are not giving back an important naval base to an anti-American communist dictatorship. Number two, we are not going to close Guantanamo. In fact, we shouldn't be releasing the people that are there now."

"Let me say this Mr. President: don't shut down Gitmo. Expand it and let's have some new terrorists there," Sen. Ted Cruz said at a rally in Fernley, Nev. "How on Earth does any president look in the eyes of a mother or father whose son or daughter lost their lives capturing these terrorists and justify, we're going to release them again when we know a very high percentage of them are going to return to waging jihad to try to murder innocent Americans?"

"Why would you close that down and move those people here into the United States?," Ohio Gov. John Kasich questioned.

"The president is flat wrong on Guantanamo Bay," he added in a tweet.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, though, praised Obama's plan.

"I am encouraged to see that the president is sending Congress a plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison," he said in a statement. "As I have said for years, the prison at Guantanamo must be closed as quickly as possible."

The Vermont senator also claimed the prison "has damaged the United States' moral standing and undermined our foreign policy."

Hillary Clinton did not immediately respond to Obama's plan, but said at a recent rally in South Carolina that she wanted to see what Obama would come up with.

"The president has to decide what he thinks should be done. He hasn't yet so I don't have a response. I wanna see what he's gonna recommend," she said.

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