Guantánamo

Obama to Congress: Guantánamo prison makes no sense

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 20, 2015 in Washington, D.C. GETTY IMAGES

Declaring “it’s not who we are,” President Barack Obama on Tuesday night appealed to Congress once again to let him close the prison camps at the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice — so it makes no sense to spend $3 million per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit,” he said in the values portion of his State of the Union speech.

He noted that since taking office he halved the prison population at the remote outpost in southeast Cuba. Tuesday, it held 122 captives following a series of far-flung transfers.

“Now it’s time to finish the job,” Obama said. “And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It’s not who we are.”

Last year, he likewise urged Congress to join him in making 2014 the year the United States emptied and shuttered the detention center.

The year before, he made no mention of his campaign pledge, an omission that the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Marine Gen. John Kelly, blamed for the hunger strike that erupted in the prison of then 166 captives.

It is not now known how many may still be on hunger strike; Kelly ordered his forces 13 months ago to stop disclosing that measure of protest just as the figures were rising.

Obama needs Congress to lift its restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the United States in order to close it. The law already forbids the relocation of detainees to the United States for detention, health care or trial. Then last week, Republican senators introduced new legislation that seeks to expand its restrictions to block transfers to other countries too.

In his speech, Obama made no mention of the fact that one of his two so-called “closers,” special envoys assigned to transfer detainees off the base, quit last month and hasn’t been replaced.

Nor did he note that the majority of the detainees are Yemeni, men the U.S. has been unwilling to repatriate until their homeland is more stable, something not remotely on the horizon Tuesday as rebel violence wracked the capital Sana’a.

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