Obama regrets his failure to close Guantanamo prison

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has harshly criticised Congress for wanting to retain the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, despite his multiple efforts to close it.

On Friday, Mr Obama signed into law a US defence policy bill that authorises $611 billion for the military in 2017 and lauded its focus to sustaining momentum in countering the militant Islamic State group. But the bill forbids him from closing the prison.

In his first election campaign in 2008, the outgoing president pledged to close the prison but he completes his second and final term on Jan 20 without fulfilling his desire. In February, he submitted a shutdown plan to Congress, but Republican lawmakers, who dominate both chambers, rejected the proposal.

Instead, they informed the Democratic administration that they want to keep the facility as a permanent feature in the war on terrorism. Since the incoming president is also a Republican there’s little doubt that the lawmakers will achieve their target.

“Spending hundreds of millions of dollars, year after year, to keep fewer than sixty men in an isolated detention facility in Cuba is not consistent with our interests as a nation and undermines our standing in the world,” Mr Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

He argued that maintain the prison weakens US national security by draining resources, damaging its relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists.

Mr Obama said that during his two terms the administration transferred over 175 detainees from Guantanamo, and the population once held at the facility has now been reduced from 242 to 59. Noting that in the last 2 years, his administration transferred 73 detainees, the president said his efforts to transfer additional detainees will continue “until the last day I am in office.”

‘It is long past time for the Congress to lift the restrictions it has imposed, work to responsibly and safely close the facility, and remove this blot on our national honor. Unless the Congress changes course, it will be judged harshly by history,” he added. The 2017 defence bill renews the bar against using officials funds to construct or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any Guantanamo detainee in the custody or under the control of the US Department of Defence unless authorised by Congress.

Dawn, December 25, 2016

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