By Carlo Muñoz - 04/30/13 04:29 PM EDT
President Obama on Tuesday demanded lawmakers take action and shutter the controversial U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
"I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said during a press conference Tuesday.
"It is expensive. It is inefficient ... It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts," the president added. "It is a recruitment tool for extremists [and] it needs to be closed."
"I'm gonna ask ... some folks over there ... to step up and help me on it," Obama said, pledging to lobby lawmakers on the issue.
Obama called the continued use of the military prison at Guantánamo "contrary" to U.S. interests.
"It needs to stop," he said.
House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) balked at the president's offer to reach out to lawmakers on closing Guantanamo.
"The president faces bipartisan opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay's detention center because he has offered no alternative plan regarding the detainees there, nor a plan for future terrorist captures," McKeoon said in a statement Tuesday.
McKeon blamed the White House's inability to come up with "comprehensive detention policy" as the cause of the continuing problems at prison.
Obama's promise to shut down the prison was a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, and in his first week in office, he signed an executive order to close the facility. But his efforts have run into fierce opposition from Congress.
Lawmakers have repeatedly attached provisions in military spending bills barring the White House from financing trials of Guantánamo captives. Congress has also mandated military detention for most future terrorism cases, making closure more difficult.
White House proposals to move the terror detainees in Cuba, which include alleged 9/11 conspirators and accused mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, onto U.S. soil only hardened lawmakers' opposition.
"I think for a lot of Americans, the notion is 'out of sight, out of mind,' and it's easy to demagogue the issue," the president said Tuesday. "That's what happened the first time this came up."
The president's comments also come amid recent riots and an ongoing hunger strike by terror detainees being housed at Guantánamo Bay.
Violent riots broke out at one of the prison's camps earlier this month after military authorities decided to end communal housing, instead moving prisoners to individual cells.
In light of the recent chaos at Guantánamo, and alongside Pentagon efforts to hand over other overseas detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan to local control, the time has come for the prison's closure, Obama said.
"This is a lingering, you know, problem that is not gonna get better. It's gonna get worse. It's gonna fester," Obama said.
Since the riots, nearly 100 of the 166 high-level terror suspects at the prison have refused food for more than a month, making it the longest hunger strike at the facility since it opened in 2002.
Military guards have begun force-feeding a number of the strikers, with five detainees being placed under medical observation due to non-life threatening symptoms related to the strike, according to recent news reports.
A team of nearly 40 Navy corpsmen, nurses and other medical specialists arrived at Guantánamo on Tuesday, to help medical staff at the prison deal with the strike, according to recent reports.
Officials at Guantánamo have also came under criticism for revelations of covert surveillance of confidential attorney-client meetings between terror detainees and their defense teams at Guantánamo.