Tuesday 24 October 2017

Obama pushes US Congress to close Guantanamo prison

President Barack Obama walks up to the podium before speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.
President Barack Obama walks up to the podium before speaking in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Jeff Mason

President Obama urged politicians yesterday to give his plan to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay a "fair hearing" and said he did not want to pass the issue to his successor when he leaves the White House next year.

The Pentagon plan proposes 13 potential sites on US soil for the transfer of remaining detainees but does not identify the facilities or endorse a specific one, administration officials said yesterday.

Obama pledged to close the prison and move the detainees as a candidate for the White House in 2008. Lawmakers largely oppose moving the prisoners to the US, however, and his final attempt to get congressional backing is unlikely to gain traction.

"Let us go ahead and close this chapter," Obama said in White House remarks.

"I don't want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is."

President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

The Guantanamo prisoners, held at a US naval station in southeastern Cuba, were detained by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The facility came to symbolise aggressive detention practices in years past that opened the US to allegations of torture.

The transfer and closure costs would be $290m to $475m (€263m to €431m), an administration official told reporters. Housing remaining detainees in the US would be $65m to $85m cheaper than at the Cuba facility, the official said.

Some 35 prisoners will be transferred from Guantanamo to other countries this year, leaving the final number below 60, officials said.

Obama is considering closing the facility by executive order if lawmakers do not back his proposal.

The plan would send detainees who have been cleared for transfer to their homelands or third countries and transfer remaining prisoners to US soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the US since 2011.

Though the Pentagon has previously noted some of the sites it surveyed for use as potential US facilities, the administration wants to avoid fuelling any political outcry in important swing states before the November 8 presidential election.

Ceasefire

Earlier yesterday, the US and Russia announced that they had agreed terms for a ceasefire in Syria beginning on Saturday, but many questions remain over whether the agreement can be implemented on the ground.

The deal would in theory mean an end to fighting between the Syrian regime and all major opposition groups except for al-Qa'ida's Syrian affiliate and Isil.

The truce, which would begin at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, should also mean an end to Russian airstrikes against rebel forces. However, news of the agreement was met with deep scepticism by observers of a conflict that has raged for five years and claimed around 300,000 lives.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, announced plans for a similar ceasefire two weeks ago, but its start date came and went without an end to the fighting.

The deal would allow Russia to continue bombing Isil and the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa'ida group in Syria.

Britain and other Western governments have accused Russia of bombing rebel groups opposed to the Assad regime while claiming to be attacking the two jihadist groups.

"About 90pc of Russian air strikes have been against the opposition, not against [Isil]," said a spokesman for the US-led coalition.

News of the peace deal could lead to an escalation of fighting as all sides scramble to take ground before the ceasefire.

Irish Independent

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