WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he would redouble efforts on a failed first-term campaign promise to close the prison for war-on-terror suspects at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe, Obama said. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us, in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.
His remarks came as 100 of the 166 detainees at the facility continue a hunger strike. Twenty-one of the inmates are being force-fed despite concerns from the American Medical Association that the practice violates core ethical values of the medical profession.
I dont want these individuals to die, the president said. Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can.
Obama said he had directed a team to review the issue before he would ask Congress again to shutter the facility. But the president provided no details on how he might do that. White House officials didnt respond to additional questions.
In a wide-ranging news conference at the White House, Obama also fielded questions for 45 minutes about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the actions of federal investigators before the bombings April 15 at the Boston Marathon, the across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March and his coming trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.
Of those issues, Guantánamo is the one that has frustrated Obama the longest, ever since he campaigned for his first term with the promise to close the facility that President George W. Bush opened after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In one of his first actions as president, Obama issued an executive order that called for the facility to be shuttered within a year. But he faced stiff opposition by lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill, in part because of concerns over where detainees would be transferred. He stopped actively pushing for the closure and in 2011 drew criticism from human rights organizations by signing a law that placed restrictions on transferring inmates from the facility.
Obama said Guantánamo might have been needed after the 2001 terrorists attacks but that that was no longer the situation. He said justice has been served in other terrorism cases, including the attempted bombings in Times Square and on a Detroit-bound plane, in regular courts and prisons across the nation.
The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, he said. Were now over a decade out. We should be wiser. We should have more experience in how we prosecute terrorists.
About 800 prisoners some considered enemy combatants have been held over the past 11 years at Guantánamo. Many have been cleared for transfer by the Obama administration but are still incarcerated, in part because some of them have nowhere to go.
Im going to go back at this, the president said. Ive asked my team to review everything thats currently being done in Guantánamo, everything that we can do administratively, and Im going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something thats in the best interest of the American people.