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White House in 'final stages' of closing Guantanamo Bay prison

By Doug G. Ware
White House in 'final stages' of closing Guantanamo Bay prison
Activist group Codepink protests the Guantanamo Bay prison and urges President Barack Obama to close it during demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., May 10, 2013. Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration is in the "final stages" of closing the facility. Photo: UPI/Pat Benic | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 23 (UPI) -- One of President Barack Obama's first orders of business when he took office in 2009 was to shutter the U.S. Navy's prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now, almost seven years later, that plan is in the "final stages," the White House said Wednesday.

Guantanamo, which has been home to hundreds of terror suspects over the past decade, has proven to be a difficult nut to crack for the commander-in-chief, however. Politics, necessity and a concern for national security have kept the prison operating for five years longer than Obama wanted.

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday said Obama is now finalizing the camp's closure.

"[The administration is] in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly (close) the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to present that to Congress," Earnest said. "That has been something that our national security officials have been working on for quite some time -- primarily because it is a priority of the president."

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Since it was established in 2002, a direct result of 9/11, the detention camp has housed numerous terror suspects and been the site of many interrogations. It has also been the epicenter of controversy regarding detainees' rights and accusations of torture.

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Nearly 700 detainees were kept at the prison in 2003 -- its most populous year to date.

In March 2009, Obama ordered the complex to be closed by January 2010. When that appeared unlikely, the president adjusted the closure's timeline amid opposing viewpoints from lawmakers in Congress. Some believed the prison housed dangerous individuals it couldn't afford to release. Others believed their detention there was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

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Through it all, the prison kept operating.

The federal government in recent years has slowly sent detainees elsewhere -- to their native country or a third-party nation willing to accept them. Earnest said Wednesday that will need to continue to shut down the facility.

Closing the prison has particularly been an uphill partisan fight for the Obama White House. Congress has blocked the transfers of detainees, many of whom have never been charged with a crime, on multiple occasions.

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"It is a priority of the president. He believes it to be part of our clear national security interests to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay," Earnest added.

As of last month, there were still 116 detainees in the prison, the Havana Times reported.

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