President Obama said Thursday that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is helping the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) create new terrorists.
“Guantanamo has been an enormous recruitment tool for organizations like ISIL,” he said during a press conference in Manila, the Philippines, using the administration's preferred acronym for the extremist group.
“It is part of how they rationalize and justify their demented, sick perpetration of violence on innocent people,” Obama said.
“We can keep the American people safe while shutting down that operation,” the president added. "We’ve already reduced dramatically the populations.
“We are spending millions of dollars per detainee, and it’s not necessary for us to keep people safe. I expect that early by next year we may have even fewer than 100 people at Guantanamo.”
“We are going to go through meticulously, with Congress, what our options are and why we think it should be closed,” he said at the Philippine International Convention Center.
“I guarantee you there will be strong resistance, because in the aftermath of Paris, I think that there is just a very strong tendency for us to get worked up around issues that don’t actually make us safer but make for good political sound bites,” Obama continued, referencing last week's terrorist attacks on the French capital that killed 129 people.
“Whether it is refugees or Guantanamo, those are handy answers, particularly for folks who aren’t interested in engaging in a more serious debate about how we invest in the long, hard slog of dealing with terrorism, doing the tough law enforcement work, gathering intelligence meticulously and building the kind of diplomatic and military solutions that we need in the Middle East,” he added.
Obama additionally noted his general frustration toward working with Congress on Guantanamo and related issues.
“It’s easier to talk about Guantanamo, I guess, then it is, for example, to pass an authorization for the use of military force in Syria — which hasn’t gotten done yet,” he said.
“It’s easier to talk about refugees than to talk about the hard work that’s going to be required to put organizations like ISIL out of business,” the president added.
The Guantanamo Bay detention facility has remained controversial since its establishment in 2002.
Obama, who ran a campaign platform based on closing the facility, is running out of time before he leaves office. He plans on sending Congress a strategy in the near future for shutting Guantanamo down and transferring its detainees to the U.S.
Republicans have vowed that they will resist the president’s plan. They have also warned him against using executive powers for closing the facility instead.
Guantanamo Bay presently contains 107 detainees. The Pentagon announced earlier this week it had released five Yemenis there into the custody of the United Arab Emirates.