WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has again called upon Congress to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and has asked the Department of Defense to create a military tribunal site in the United States.
The President, who spoke of his proposals in a May 23 speech at the National Defense University on the nation’s counterterrorism policy, also said he will propose a lift the moratorium of detainee transfers to Yemen and appoint an officer at the state department and defense department who will oversee transfers to third countries.
“The original premise for opening GTMO – that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention – was found unconstitutional five years ago,” Obama said. “In the meantime, GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law.”
The detention center, which currently houses 166 detainees, has been wrought with controversy since it began detaining suspects of terrorist attacks on the United States in 2002. As of now more than 100 detainees are participating in a hunger strike, approximately 31 of which are being force-fed by military officers.
Obama, who signed an executive order to close the facility when he took office in 2009, reestablished his commitment to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay at a time when military officials are seeking to renovate aging facilities that they say were never meant to continue operation for 11 years. General John Kelly of the U.S. Southern Command is now requesting $200 million from the pentagon in order to renovate the crumbling buildings. Including operational and maintenance costs, the Pentagon is requesting more than $450 million. In the time of fierce budget cuts, Obama said, the government is funding to maintain the detention center while cutting investments in education and research.
Obama said the nation has a commitment to bringing war detention to an end and prosecuting terrorists whenever possible. However, he considers the detention center at Guantanamo Bay “the glaring exception.”
“I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States,” Obama said. “These restrictions make no sense.”
After failed attempts to transfer Guantanamo detainees to a domestic super-maximum security prison, the President added that there is no rational basis for Congress’ blocks to close the facility and detainee transfers as approximately 530 detainees were transferred from Guantanamo under former President George Bush.
“Given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership,” he said, “there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened.”
Obama said the government will have difficulties when deciding how to resolve cases in which detainees have participated in dangerous plots or attacks but cannot be prosecuted.
“But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law,” he said.
As the long-running hunger strike continues to worsen and the aging prison camp demands more attention and funds, the President asked the nation to consider how this piece history will be regarded by future generations.
“Imagine a future – 10 years from now or 20 years from now – when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not a part of our country,” Obama said. “Look at the current situation where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our founder foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”