White House blames Congress for Gitmo prison staying open

The White House on Monday blamed Congress for preventing the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention prison amid a hunger strike and riots at the camp.

President Obama “remains committed” to closing Guantánamo Bay, something he said he would do in his first week in office in 2009, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted.

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“It is the president’s view that facility ought to be closed,” Carney said. “We have taken steps processing detainees, transferring them to third countries, but the obstacles to closing Guantánamo Bay have been raised by Congress.”

Violent riots broke out at one of the prison's camps this weekend after military authorities decided to end communal housing, instead moving prisoners to individual cells.

The Pentagon said the decision was made after detainees covered windows and surveillance cameras, a move that coincided with a hunger strike being staged by dozens of prisoners. At least one prisoner was injured by a rubber bullet in the clash with guards on Saturday.

The dispute reportedly began when inmates were angered by guards searching copies of the Quran issued by the military. The Pentagon said at least 11 inmates protesting their treatment were being force-fed.

Carney confirmed that the White House had been made aware of the planned move.

“We were informed by the Department of Defense by the steps it was going to take to move detainees from Camp Six communal situation to single cell living in order to ensure their health and security,” he said.

Saturday's violence has refocused attention on the administration’s failed attempt to close the entire detention facility in Cuba.

Congress has repeatedly attached provisions in military spending bills barring the White House from financing trials of Guantánamo captives on U.S. soil or opening a military prison on U.S. soil. Congress has also mandated military detention for most future al Qaeda cases, increasing the difficulty of closing the prison.

On Monday, Carney said Obama was trying to move forward with the prison’s closure.

“Congress has, as you know, raised obstacles to this legislatively,” he said. “And that has made it, obviously, more difficult to pursue this, but that does not change the fact that it is the president's objective, and we are, you know, constantly looking for ways to move forward on that objective.”

The Pentagon hasn’t allowed an extended visit to Guantánamo by defense attorneys for any of the prisoners.

In January, defense attorneys for the accused 9/11 hijackers requested a 48-hour visit to Camp Seven to examine the living conditions at the camp amid accusations of mistreatment by military officials.

Members of the International Red Cross were given special access to the Camp Seven compound in 2009, but their report was classified by the U.S. government and has yet to be released.

Officials at Guantánamo also came under criticism for revelations of covert surveillance of confidential attorney-client meetings between terror detainees and their defense teams at Guantánamo.

—This story was updated at 4:09 p.m.