WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used his signing Thursday of the 2014 Defense Authorization Act to take a swipe at Congress for continuing to impede his efforts at closing the detention facility at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Since taking office, I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with my Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” Obama said in a statement. “The continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists.”
Closing the facility was a longtime campaign pledge of Obama and an attempt to do so was one of his first official acts as President. Five years later, the facility remains open with about 160 prisoners remaining, thanks to repeated congressional opposition to transfer detainees to other countries or try them on American soil.
Congressional opposition to transferring detainees owes to a fear that transferred prisoners would attempt to attack the United States. More than 80 prisoners have been cleared to return to their native countries, most to Yemen.
“Earlier this year I again called upon the Congress to lift these restrictions and, in this bill, the Congress has taken a positive step in that direction,” Obama said, pointing to a section of the bill that allows his administration additional flexibility to negotiate transfers with foreign countries.
However, Obama said, the bill does not “eliminate all of the unwarranted limitations on foreign transfers,” and continues to block efforts to transfer detainees to facilities in the domestic United States.
“I oppose these provisions, as I have in years past, and will continue to work with the Congress to remove these restrictions,” Obama said, arguing that the limitations unconstitutionally undermine his authority.
“The executive branch must have the authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests,” he said.
The President noted that various administrations have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in domestic American courts over the years.
“Those prosecutions are a legitimate, effective, and powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation,” Obama said. “Removing that tool from the executive branch does not serve our national security interests.”
Now more than 10 years old, Guantanamo found its way back into the headlines earlier this year after more than 100 of the prisoners staged a prolonged hunger strike.
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