President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday a new plan to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, a goal he has sought for years, but one that has been stonewalled by Congress.
Obama said his new plan would eliminate a propaganda tool used by terrorist organizations, save the US government 85 million dollars each year and remove a "stain on our broader record of upholding the higher standards of rule of law."
Outlining the plan at the White House, Obama said it has been clear since he first ran for president in 2008 that the prison, which once held nearly 800 prisoners and now holds 91 detainees, should be closed.
"This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts. This is the opinion of many in our military," he said.
Obama's plan calls for the immediate transfer of 35 detainees who have already been approved for transfer to other unspecified countries and the acceleration of reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether they should continue being held.
The plan also calls for making changes to the military commission to deal with 10 detainees whose cases currently are before those courts. The reforms are needed because the commissions are very costly and have resulted in years of litigation without a resolution, Obama said.
The most controversial part of Obama's plan is that it also calls for finding a location in the United States to hold detainees whose cases are before the military commissions and those who cannot yet be transferred to other countries.
Republicans in Congress immediately rejected locating any of the prisoners in the United States.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would review the plan, but said lawmakers already have rejected any transfer of dangerous terrorists to the United States.
"We will review President Obama's plan, but since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in communities in the United States, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal," McConnell said.
Obama admitted that the politics of closing the prison would be tough.
"I think a lot of the American public are worried about terrorism, and in their mind, the notion of having terrorists held in the United States rather than in some distant place can be scary," he said.
But he noted that the US already is holding dangerous terrorists who were convicted in the US criminal court system and "because we threw the book at them and there have been no incidents."
Obama first announced plans to close the facility when he took office in 2009, and 147 detainees have been transferred out of the prison since then.
The facility, located on a US naval base on the island, has housed terrorist suspects since shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
By Gretel Johnston
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