Obama looks to deport Gitmo detainees

President Obama is renewing efforts to deport a number of terror detainees housed at the Guantánamo Bay military prison back to their home countries as part of the White House's push to shut down the facility.

Administration officials are looking "to renew our focus again on repatriating or transferring detainees," specifically those being held at Guantánamo , White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. 

Part of that effort will be to appoint a State Department official to head up the enterprise, as well as restart the "periodic review board process" to determine which detainees can be repatriated to their home countries, Carney told reporters at the White House. 

"We're going to continue to work to get that implemented so it is up and standing," he said. 

Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s former special envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, was reassigned in January without a replacement, and the office has remained vacant since then. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with a number of senior congressional lawmakers, has pushed the White House in recent weeks to find a replacement for Fried. 

"I urge the [White House] to fill this vacant position or to appoint another senior administration official with the specific responsibility to achieve the conditions necessary to close Guantanamo," Feinstein said in a letter sent to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in late April. 

The Obama administration "has not moved forward quickly enough" on finding Fried's replacement and the overall detainee repatriation process, according to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Obama is "considering a range of options for ways that we can reduce the population [in Guantánamo] and move toward ultimate closure," Hayden said. 

Many of those options the administration "can take on our own but some of which will require working with the Congress," she added. 

On Tuesday, Obama demanded lawmakers take action and shutter the controversial U.S. military prison. Closing Guantánamo was a centerpiece of his 2008 presidential campaign. 

"I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said during a press conference at the White House. 

"It is expensive. It is inefficient ... It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts," the president said. "It is a recruitment tool for extremists [and] it needs to be closed." 

However, getting that effort back on track may be easier said that done, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. 

Negotiations with foreign countries on accepting repatriated detainees from Guantánamo have not gone as well as Washington had hoped, Little said Wednesday. 

"There are some countries that have not agreed to the return of their nationals" from U.S. custody, Little told reporters at the Pentagon. 

That kind of stonewalling has "impacted out ability to draw down" the detainee population at Guantánamo, Little added. 

Little declined to comment on which specific countries oppose repatriation, but over half of the detainees cleared by the White House are Yemeni nationals. 

Congress had pressured Obama to halt detainee transfers to the country in the wake of the attempted 2009 bombing of a commercial airliner heading from Yemen to the United States. 

The bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was allegedly under orders to carry out the attack from al Qaeda's Yemeni cell, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). 

But the Yemeni government's continued campaign to push AQIM from its strongholds in southern Yemen has caused lawmakers to change their minds on detainee transfers to the country. 

"I believe it would be prudent to revisit the decision to halt transfers to Yemen and assess whether President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi’s government ... would be able to securely hold detainees in Sana,”  Feinstein said in her letter to Donilon.