By Justin Sink
President Obama is considering executive action to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, despite congressional legislation that bans the transfer of detainees there to prisons in the U.S., according to a Thursday report.
Administration officials told The Wall Street Journal that that the president is weighing two options to force the closure of the controversial facility, which he pledged to shutter before his election in 2008.
Or, Obama could — as he has done in the past — sign the legislation but include a singing statement that declares the restrictions on detainee transfers unconstitutional. He could then unilaterally move to transfer the remaining prisoners to a military or civilian prison in the U.S.
“This Administration has repeatedly objected to statutory restrictions that impede our ability to responsibly close the detention facility and pursue appropriate options for the detainees remaining there, including by determining when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests,” then-White House press secretary Jay Carney said in May.
The White House has argued that the costs associated with the prison, which total nearly $500 million per year, are too high. Carney said the facility “wastes our resources, creates friction with our allies and undermines our standing in the world.”
But lawmakers have repeatedly and strenuously objected to housing terrorists, some of whom were reportedly involved in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, on the U.S. mainland.
Those objections will likely have intensified after the controversial decision to trade five Taliban militants being held at the prison for Taliban captive and Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl earlier this summer. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were angry the president ignored notification requirements about the transfer of detainees.
According to the Journal, the administration is looking to ease those concerns by transferring as many detainees as possible before the possible executive action. Of the 149 inmates, 79 have been approved for transfer to foreign countries, although the Obama administration is still seeking suitable host countries that would take the detainees.
Still, that leaves a sizable number of prisoners for whom the White House would need to find space in U.S. prisons. Of the inmates, 33 are in pretrial hearings or have been designated for prosecution by military commission, while another 37 have been deemed too dangerous to release, despite the government not having enough evidence to convict them by trial.