Pentagon to Submit Plan to Close Military Prison at Guantanamo Bay
The Defense Department has readied a plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for submission to Congress, which has thus far rejected proposals to bring some of the prisoners to into the U.S.
The plan to close the facility by the end of this year was expected to be sent to Capitol Hill as early as Tuesday -- the deadline for submission of the effort to meet one of President Barack Obama's 2008 pledges.
"We understand that the deadline is tomorrow, and it's our intent to meet it," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis a Pentagon spokesman.
"The plan is to submit to Congress what our thoughts are on the issue and what we see is a way ahead necessary to achieve the closure of Guantanamo and to specifically point out the need for legislative relief," he added.
The White House, Pentagon and Justice Department plan to continue decreasing the number of detainees at the facility – currently at 91 -- throughout the year by transferring some to other countries willing to accept them and by prosecuting others before military tribunals, according to Davis, who discussed a general outline of the plan to be sent to Congress.
However, that will leave a small number of prisoners who "can be neither safely transferred nor prosecuted," he said. Those remaining prisoners would have to be moved to a facility in the U.S., and Congress has repeatedly moved to block any transfers to the mainland.
At the direction of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the military last year inspected federal facilities in South Carolina, Colorado and Kansas as potential sites to take Guantanamo detainees.
Carter's action prompted several moves in Congress to hold up Pentagon appointments. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, put a hold on the nomination of Eric Fanning to become Army Secretary unless he was assured that the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was no longer under consideration for prisoner Guantanamo prisoner relocations.
Guantanamo has been a vexing issue for the Obama administration and the administration of former President George W. Bush since the first 20 prisoners from Afghanistan were brought there in January 2002.
The Guantanamo population grew to more than 800 under the Bush administration, though the majority of prisoner transfers to third countries also occurred during his presidency. Critics of the transfers that continued during the Obama administration have charged that some of the transferred prisoners returned to the battlefield.
Critics have also warned that Obama might seek to get around Congress by issued executive orders to transfer prisoners to the U.S. In response, the Pentagon said last month that it would take no action on the Guantanamo issue that would violate the law.
The Hill newspaper cited a letter sent last month to congressional military veterans by Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which appeared to rule out any transfers of Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. without Congress' approval.
"Current law prohibits the use of funds to 'transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release' of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to or within the United States and prohibits the construction, modification, or acquisition of any facility in the United States to house any Guantanamo detainee," the letter said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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