Pentagon chief: Gitmo detainees can't come to US 'unless Congress acts'

Pentagon chief: Gitmo detainees can't come to US 'unless Congress acts'

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday that President Obama cannot move Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. without Congress's permission. 

Carter said there are some detainees who would not be safe to transfer out of U.S. custody, and in order to close the Guantanamo Bay facility, there would have to be an alternate one in the U.S. 

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"Now, that can't be done unless Congress acts, which means that Congress has to support the idea that it would be good to move this facility and — or the detainees to the United States," he told reporters at a briefing. 

Carter said he supported closing the facility, but acknowledged that Congress has blocked moving any detainees to the U.S. by law. 

"So it is good if it can be done, but it cannot be done under current law. The law has to be changed," he said. 

"That is the reason to put a proposal to put in front of Congress," he added. 

The White House last Tuesday submitted its proposal to Congress to close the detention facility and bring between 30 and 60 detainees to be held in the U.S.

The plan was immediately rejected by dozens of Republicans who said it was too vague and unsafe. 

Republican lawmakers have expressed worry that the president will try to close the facility and bring detainees to the U.S. using executive authority. However, several administration officials have said that would be against current law. 

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified earlier this month that doing so would violate current law, and the president's nominee for Pentagon general counsel Jennifer O'Conner during her confirmation hearing Thursday said she agreed. 

"The restrictions that are in place now prohibit the transfer to the United States of the detainees who are at Guantanamo and the attorney general testified as to that yesterday. She's the chief legal officer of the executive branch and I agree," O'Conner told the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Carter also said the military intends to hold on to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, amid speculation the president could announce its return to Cuba during a visit to country in March. 

"It's a strategic location. We've had it for a long time. It's important to us and we intend to hold on to it," Carter said.