President Obama said on Tuesday that he would recommit himself to closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, a goal that he all but abandoned in the face of Congressional opposition in his first term and that faces steep challenges now.
Mr. Obama said he would try again to persuade Congress to lift restrictions on transferring inmates while describing the prison in Cuba as a waste and has had a damaging effect on American foreign policy.
“It’s a hard case to make because it’s easy to demagogue the issue,” remarked Mr. Obama.
The plan for Guantánamo he proposed was trashed by Congress, which barred any further transfers of detainees onto domestic soil. A spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on Tuesday that “there is wide, bipartisan opposition in Congress to the president’s goal of moving those terrorists to American cities and towns.”
Mr. Obama made his remarks following the arrival at the prison of more than three dozen Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists to help deal with a mass hunger strike by inmates, many of whom have been held for over 11 years without trial. As of Tuesday, 100 of the 166 prisoners were officially deemed to be participating, with 21 now being force-fed a nutritional supplement through tubes inserted in their noses.
“I don’t want these individuals to die,” Mr. Obama said.
Both conservatives and civil libertarians said that Mr. Obama could be doing more to reduce the number of low-level detainees held at the prison.
“For the past two years, our committee has worked with our Senate counterparts to ensure that the certifications necessary to transfer detainees overseas are reasonable,” Mr. McKeon said. “The administration has never certified a single transfer.”
Human rights groups also pushed Mr. Obama to direct the Pentagon to start issuing waivers, and said he should appoint a White House official to run Guantánamo policy with the authority to resolve interagency disputes.
“There’s more to be done, but these are the two essential first steps the president can take now to break the Guantánamo logjam,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We will also work to fully implement the Periodic Review Board process, which we acknowledge has not moved forward quickly enough,” she added.
Mr. Obama was ambiguous about one of the most difficult problems raised by Guantánamo: what to do with dozens of detainees deemed too risky to release but not feasible to prosecute. His policy has been not to release those prisoners, but to continue to imprison them indefinitely under the laws of war — just somewhere else.
Mr. Obama appeared to question that policy when Iraq war had ended.
“The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried,” he said, “that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
His remarks about the prison came in an otherwise sedate news conference, and at times he appeared almost anguished.
“This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”
Written By: Jhon Limwhel Titular