WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he regrets not shutting down the U.S. Navy's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba when he first arrived at the White House six years ago.
Obama made the remarks following an economic speech in Cleveland, where a seventh-grader asked what he regrets most about his presidency so far, the Washington Post reported.
"I think I would have closed Guantanamo on the first day," he said. "I didn't at that time because we had a bipartisan agreement that it should be closed."
That bipartisan agreement never made it through and the prison, opened in the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks, has remained functional to this day.
"The politics of it got tough and people got scared by the rhetoric around it," he said.
Obama's remarks were met largely with applause from the audience.
Controversy has surrounded the facility since it opened -- involving reported torture and force-feedings -- and some say terror groups often use it as a recruiting tool by repeating tales of abuse. Islamic State radicals mock the prison in their murder videos by making their victims wear similar orange jumpsuits.
Obama has reduced the prison population at Guantanamo by transferring those who have been cleared of terror-related charges. In just the last three months, more than two dozen detainees have been transferred to other nations.
About 120 inmates remain at the facility -- including a few dozen who administration officials believe are too dangerous for release. Nearly 250 detainees were housed there on Obama's first day in office. The president, along with many others in Congress, have long wanted the prison closed.
Daily operation of the Guantanamo prison carries a hefty price tag, too. The Pentagon has said the government spends about $3 million, per detainee, to run the operation each year.
A major obstacle in getting the prison closed involve seven high-value detainees there, who would need to be moved into other security facilities to face terror charges in U.S. courts. One of those high-value inmates is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the purported mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.