President Obama Renews Push to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

During a press conference marking the first 100 days of his second term, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would once again begin working with Congress to close the military prison located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detention center, often referred to as Gitmo in the media, has been housing foreign terrorism suspects for 12 years and has been at the center of a constitutional and human rights storm ever since the George W. Bush administration opened its doors in early 2002.

“Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe,” President Obama stated Tuesday. “It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

In 2008, then-senator Obama’s election campaign included a promise to shut Gitmo down during his first year in office. After several half-hearted attempts to make that happen in the early days of his presidency, including the repatriation and resettlement of many of the detainees, the president all but forgot the infamous prison. In fact, the administration recently shuttered  its office in charge of closing the facility, and reassigned the top diplomat charged with its task.

But the notoriously unpopular prison has been harder to ignore in recent days as well over half of the detainees inside its walls engage in a hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention. Over the weekend, the Navy sent 40 extra medics to the facility to strengthen its ability to care for the strikers- 21 of whom are now being force-fed through nasal tubes in what the American Medical Association has called a violation of ‘core ethical values.’

The Obama administration has attempted to shift blame onto Congress for its inability to close Gitmo’s doors. Congress blocked the acquisition of a state prison in Illinois to which prisoners could be transferred and barred the White House from financing the trials of any Guantanamo captives on US soil. President Obama’s Yemeni ban forbids the transfer of prisoners to the Arabian peninsula state — problematic, because about 90% of the detainees call Yemen home.

President Obama must inevitably brush against Congress if he truly wants to close Guantanamo Bay this time around. Proponents of an empty Gitmo claim that the president can only get the job done if he wrests control of its closure policy from the Pentagon and works with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to begin certifying ‘cleared’ detainees for transfer, a group that makes up more than half of the prison’s population.

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