US President Barack Obama launched a final push to persuade Congress to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, despite strong opposition from lawmakers who do not want detainees transferred to the United States.
“Let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Reuters quoted Obama as saying at the White House on Tuesday. “I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?”
The Pentagon-authored plan proposes 13 potential sites on US soil to hold some 30 to 60 detainees in maximum security prisons but does not identify the facilities.
Lawmakers are unlikely to lift the ban on prisoner transfers to the US, especially in an election year, the news agency said.
“We’ll review President Obama’s plan,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in US communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”
Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama has yet to convince Americans that moving the prisoners to the US is smart or safe.
Obama is considering taking executive action to close the facility, situated in a US naval station in southeast Cuba, if Congress does not change its position.
The White House declined to rule out a unilateral option on Tuesday.
Republicans oppose any executive order, and issuing one would almost certainly generate legal challenges.
The Guantanamo prisoners were rounded up overseas when the US became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The facility came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the US to accusations of torture. Most detainees have been held without trial for more than a decade.
It once held nearly 800 people, but now houses 91 detainees.
Some 35 prisoners will be transferred to other countries in the coming months, bringing the final number below 60, officials said.
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