The Obama White House has been trying to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since 2009. In 2008, it was then-presidential candidate Obama’s campaign promise to shut it down.
He started the ball rolling in early 2009, soon after his inauguration, with an executive order mandating an immediate review of all 242 detainees then held in Guantanamo and requiring the detention center’s closure. before the end of that year, his administration deemed 156 detainees low enough security threats to be transferred to foreign countries.
Around 50 former Guantanamo detainees who were released, returned to the battlefield, undertook terrorist actions or were linked with terrorist actions in various countries around the world.
The Pentagon obviously doesn’t want the closure to happen and it has been working to thwart efforts to release more detainees. There are two battles in play, but the Pentagon’s primary objective is to keep the prison open.
According to Administration officials, the Pentagon campaign to slow down prisoner transfers includes Pentagon officials not providing photographs, complete medical records and other basic documentation to foreign governments willing to take detainees. They also make it much more difficult for foreign delegations to visit Guantanamo and those foreign governments that do make it to the island prison have only a limited time to interview the detainees. Those foreign delegations are not allowed to stay overnight.
These few simple tactics may be enough to stop the president from making good on his 2008 campaign promise. There is probably insufficient time remaining in Obama’s second term to achieve the closure. In 2003 there were up to 680 detainees in the prison. At the beginning of 2009, when Obama took office, numbers had reduced to 242. Today there are 107 detainees.
In 2011 and 2012 prisoner transfers out of Gitmo slowed considerably, and by January 2013, the the State Department appeared to have given up on it happening, and they closed the office assigned with the closure of Guantanamo. Four months later, in May 2013, a new plan was put forward to close the prison, aiming to transfer as many prisoners as possible to countries willing to take them.
President Obama contributed directly to this more recent slow transfer approval rate, when he removed the Republican Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in February 2015, unnamed former administration officials said. Obama then installed Ashton Carter as his new Defense Secretary. In September, Obama held a closed-door meeting with Carter, in which he reprimanded the new Secretary, according to administration officials briefed on the meeting.
Closing the Guantanamo Bay facility is much easier said than done. Around 25% of the remaining prisoners are considered too dangerous to transfer to U.S. prisons, and in any case, the Republican majority in Congress is opposed to such transfers.
Undeterred, Obama told a press conference last month that he still thinks he can strike a deal, but even if he can’t, he “reserves the right” to transfer the dangerous prisoners to the U.S. using executive authority.
Annual recurring costs to keep the facility open are around $120 million. In addition, it was reported in March 2013 that the military wanted to spend $195.7 million renovating the facility, including $49million to erect a new prison building for the “special case” prisoners.
Privately, Pentagon officials have criticized Obama’s failing policy to release the prisoners and close the prison. Time is running out for the president.