Pentagon chief denies officials trying to slow down Gitmo transfers

Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is pushing back against suggestions that Pentagon officials have tried to slow down efforts to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

"I've said from the day I was nominated to be secretary of Defense, I think on balance it would be a good thing to close Gitmo. I completely agree with President Obama about that," Carter said on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" Sunday.

"But here's the issue, there are people in Gitmo who are so dangerous that we cannot transfer them to the custody of another government no matter how much we trust that government. I can't assure the president that it would be safe to do that," he said.

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Carter's comments come after the New York Times's editorial board earlier this month charged that defense officials "have used every bureaucratic trick in the book to slow down the release of inmates," saying the action "basically amounts to insubordination."

Carter rejected that characterization Sunday, saying he had sent a proposal to President Obama on bringing detainees to the U.S. He said the president indicated he would submit it to Congress.

"I hope they will support a reasonable plan. We'll have to see," Carter said.

The Obama administration has ramped up efforts to reduce the population at Gitmo. Officials transferred 16 detainees in January, bringing the population down to 91. An additional detainee was prepared for departure, but he refused to leave the prison because he was being transferred to a country where he had no family.

The Pentagon, which has authority over releasing the detainees from the military prison, has come under increased pressure in recent months to move those who have been approved for transfer but are awaiting countries to accept them.

Obama has 11 more months in office to fulfill his campaign pledge to shut down the facility, and bring any remaining detainees to a prison facility in the U.S.

The transfers are also a politically contentious issue in some countries that are taking in detainees.

A political opposition leader in Ghana is warning that two Guantanamo Bay detainees recently transferred to that country will "vanish" if  that party comes to power, according to a local media report.

The deputy general secretary of the opposition New Patriotic Party, Nana Obiri Boahen, during a recent radio interview called the move by Ghanan President John Mahama "wrong and dangerous," according to GhanaWeb.

Boahen also accused Mahama of pocketing money from the U.S. in exchange for the transfer. Mahama said he took in the detainees after a direct request by the U.S. government and that "no monetary consideration was made to us," according to the Associated Press.

The Obama administration transferred two Yemeni detainees to Ghana earlier this month — the first detainees to come to sub-Saharan Africa. The detainees are slated to stay in that country for two years before going on to Yemen. Current U.S. law prohibits transferring detainees to Yemen due to the country's precarious security situation.