By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 – President Barack Obama today vowed to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the prison has become a symbol of an America that flouts the law.
Obama spoke at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair here. His discussion on the Gitmo facility was part of a larger discussion on counterterrorism policy.
The original premise for opening the detention center at Guantanamo was that detainees would not be able to challenge their detention, he noted during his remarks, but added the Supreme Court found that unconstitutional five years ago.
“In the meantime, Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” the president said. “Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at Gitmo. During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner. And the Department of Defense estimates that we must spend another $200 million to keep Gitmo open at a time when we are cutting investments in education and research here at home.”
Obama has tried to close the facility and transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress stopped the process, he noted. “These restrictions make no sense,” he said.
Obama said he believes these detainees can be held in U.S. prisons and prosecuted in U.S. courts. “No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons in the United States,” he said. “Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most Gitmo detainees.”
The president called on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from the facility.
“I have tasked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions,” he said. “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case-by-case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries. Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.”
There will still be detainees who have participated in attacks on Americans who cannot be prosecuted due to tainted evidence, Obama noted. “But once we commit to a process of closing Gitmo, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law,” he said.
The president was interrupted several times by a heckler who yelled that the president should close the facility now. He said her voice needed to be heard.
Obama asked if Guantanamo is the kind of legacy America wants or deserves. “Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?” he asked. “Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”