Joint Staff: We won't break law to close Gitmo

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The U.S. military will not help the Obama administration transfer any Guantanamo detainees to the states unless the law prohibiting it is changed, according to a letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Congress.  

"Current law prohibits the use of funds to 'transfer, release, or assist in the transfer or release' of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to or within the United States and prohibits the construction, modification, or acquisition of any facility in the United States to house any Guantanamo detainee," the Jan. 15 letter from Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville said. 

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"The Joint Staff will not take any action contrary to those restrictions," said Mayville, the director of the Joint Staff, said in the letter to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), member of the House Intelligence Committee. 

The Pentagon's letter, first reported by Bloomberg View, was in response to an initial missive by Pompeo and 16 other military veteran House lawmakers. 

The response would mean that President Obama would not be able to close the facility by bringing existing detainees to the U.S. via executive order if Congress refuses to do so. 

Obama in December left it unclear whether he would use executive action to close the facility. 

"We will wait until Congress has definitively said no to a well-thought-out plan with numbers attached to it before we say anything definitive about my executive authority here," he said at his year-end press conference. 

Without the Pentagon's help, it would be impossible for detainees to leave the detention facility at Guantanamo, which is controlled and run by the U.S. military. 

The administration is currently working on a plan to send to Congress on how it would close the detention facility.

The president had pledged in 2008 on the campaign trail to close the facility, but Congress has blocked that move through yearly defense authorization bills that call for the defense secretary to personally sign off on each release and meet a number of hurdles. 

The White House has reportedly become frustrated with the Pentagon's reluctance to sign off on the release of detainees approved for transfer, and Mayville's letter will likely not help. 

Still, Mayville says in the letter that the Joint Staff agrees with the president's policy to close the prison. 

"As the President has stated, closing the Guantanamo detention facility is a national security imperative," he wrote. 

"The continue operation of Guantanamo weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationship with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists. The Joint Chiefs of Staff support the President's commitment to a responsible end to holding detainees at Guantanamo," he said.  

There are 91 detainees remaining at the prison.