News Column

Obama Will Try Again to Shut Down Gitmo

April 30, 2013
guantanamo prison

President Obama said Tuesday he would again move to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and noted that the United States needs to re-evaluate how it handles suspected terrorists.

"I continue to believe that we've got to close Guantanamo," he said. "I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe."

When Obama took office more than four years ago, he pledged to close the prison within a year, but he underestimated Congress' resistance to transferring terror suspects to the US and to paying for alternative facilities to hold them on US soil and he had no choice but to keep it open.

At a news conference Tuesday, Obama laid out his arguments for closing it: "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."

Asked about a hunger strike among detainees at the facility, Obama said efforts would continue to be sure the men do not die, but added, "All of us should reflect on why exactly we're doing this."

Keeping detainees indefinitely without trial is "contrary to our interests and it needs to stop," he said.

Obama acknowledged that closing the facility is "a hard case to make," but vowed, "I'm going to go back at it because I think it's important."

He said he would return to the issue and had asked his advisors to review what is currently being done at Guanatanamo and would work to make the case that keeping the facility open was not in the US interests.

He vowed to reach out to lawmakers to seek ways to close the facility and examine all options that can be taken by the White House.

Suspected al-Qaeda and other terrorism-related detainees have been held at the prison since 2002. Currently there are 166 prisoners there and several of them are on a hunger strike that followed what prisoners said was an aggressive cell search on February 6.

On April 13 US military guards forcefully transferred prisoners out of a communal dormitory into individual cells. There was a skirmish in which rubber bullets were fired and minor injuries were reported among both prisoners and guards.

Lawyers for the prisoners say despair is the underlying reason for the hunger strikes after being held for more than 10 years without charges being filed, much less a trial.

Detainee Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel wrote a story for the New York Times earlier this month in which he detailed the hunger strike of at least 40 detainees and the force feeding he had endured.

"The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one," he wrote. "I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen's president do something, that is what I risk every day."

He described the detainees as "suffering deeply" and said he hoped the hunger strike would draw attention to the prison again.

Obama had campaigned in 2008 on closing the prison camp, even signing an order to close the facility on his first day in office in 2009. He later had stepped back from doing so amid strong opposition from Congress.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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