President Outlines Plans to Close Guantanamo

WASHINGTON — In an effort to make good on campaign promises, President Obama reaffirmed on Feb. 23 his commitment to closing the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it,” President Obama said in his address. “It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.”

The move to shutter the controversial facility has received bipartisan support, as both President George W. Bush and Republican Senator John McCain have also advocated for its closure. However, Obama also lamented congressional efforts to block the closure on the basis of a perceived threat to public safety.

“Despite the politics, we’ve made progress,” President Obama said. “Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other countries.”

More than 500 of these transfers occurred under President George W. Bush, while the Obama administration has transferred an additional 147. Today, only 91 detainees remain at the facility.

The president’s speech coincided with the U.S. Department of Defense, together with the Office of Management and Budget, submitting to Congress a detailed plan for the facility’s closure. The four-pronged plan’s first point is to continue to securely and responsibly transfer to other countries the 35 detainees that have already been approved for transfer. “Keep in mind, this process involves extensive and careful coordination across our federal government to ensure that our national security interests are met when an individual is transferred to another country,” President Obama said.

Second, the department plans to accelerate periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary. If certain detainees no longer pose a significant threat, they may be eligible for transfer to another country as well.

Third, the department will continue to use all legal tools to deal with remaining detainees still held under law of war detention. Currently, 10 detainees are in some stage of the military commissions process, according to President Obama.

Finally, the department plans to work with Congress to find a secure location in the United States to hold remaining detainees. “We are not identifying a specific facility today in this plan,” President Obama said. “As Congress has imposed restrictions that currently prevent the transfer of detainees to the United States, we recognize that this is going to be a challenge. And we’re going to keep making the case to Congress that we can do this in a responsible and secure way, taking into account the lessons and great record of our maximum-security prisons.”

The Defense Department estimates that this plan, compared to keeping Guantanamo open, would lower costs by up to $85 million annually — totaling more than $300 million over the next decade and $1.7 billion total over the next 20 years.