President Barack Obama announced his plan to close Guantanamo Bay’s prisoner detention center on Tuesday. The announcement comes one month before Obama will be the first President to travel to Cuba in 88 years.
“Fifteen years after 9/11,” President Obama announced, “fifteen years after the worst terrorist attack in American history, we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks.” He also said that the plan has not been easy and that if it had been the prison would have closed years ago as he had hoped.
Last year, the Pentagon looked at potential facilities in South Carolina, Kansas, and Colorado, as well as other unnamed bases as possible sites to transfer prisoners. However, according to a release from the Defense Department, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook says that the closure plan “does not endorse a specific facility to house Guantanamo detainees who cannot be safely transferred to other countries at this time. The administration seeks an active dialogue with Congress on this issue and looks forward to working with Congress to identify the most appropriate location as soon as possible.”
“This plan,” Obama announced, “has my full support.”
He further explained that the very existence of Guantanamo has caused problems with global allies who say that is still not resolved. “Our closest allies raise it with me continually,” Obama said. “They often raise specific cases of detainees, repeatedly.”
The President reiterated that the closing of the prison has always been bipartisan and that both he and former President George W. Bush shared. “President Bush, said he wanted to close Guantanamo, despite everything he had invested in it. I give him credit for that. There was an honest assessment on his part about what needed to happen. But he didn’t get it done and it was passed to me,” Obama continued saying he has been working for seven years to close the facility.
Obama’s 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain also supported the closing during their campaign. During the period that he was working through the options, Obama said that the once bipartisan issue became a partisan one and fears were stoked about terrorists living in U.S. prisons.
“Now, despite these problems we’ve made progress,” Obama continued. Of the nearly 800 detainees once in Guantanamo, just 91 remain in the prison today. More than 85 percent have been transferred to other countries, 500 of which were done by Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush. An additional 147 detainees were transferred under the Obama Administration.
The President also said that the closing will help save American taxpayers money to the tune of millions. A staggering $450 million was spent in 2015 alone to keep it running with an additional $200 million costs were we to keep it open. “For less than 100 detainees,” Obama reminded. The final plan will lower costs by $85 million per year and over 20 years the savings for the American military will be $1.7 billion.
To those with fears of terrorists being within the U.S. borders, Obama said “we are already holding terrorists here in the United States. And there have been no incidents. We’ve managed it just fine.”
The plan, outlined by the Pentagon, has four main points:
1. Securely and responsibly transferring to foreign countries detainees who have been designated for transfer by the president’s national security team;
2. Continuing to review the threat posed by those detainees who are not currently eligible for transfer through the Periodic Review Board (PRB);
3. Identifying individualized dispositions for those who remain designated for continued law of war detention, including possible Article III, military commission, or foreign prosecutions;
4. Working with the Congress to establish a location in the United States to securely hold detainees whom we cannot at this time transfer to foreign countries or who are subject to military commission proceedings.
“I really think there is an opportunity here for progress. I believe we’ve got an obligation to try,” Obama said as he was closing.