White House: Gitmo closing plan 'close'

White House: Gitmo closing plan 'close'
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The White House is close to submitting a plan to Congress to close the Guantánamo Bay military prison, press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.


“The administration is, in fact, in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and present that plan to Congress,” Earnest told reporters.

Obama has made closing the controversial detention facility a top priority since his first presidential campaign. But he has encountered significant obstacles in attempting to shutter the prison, including resistance from Congress and problems finding new homes for the remaining detainees.

The administration is making a final push to close the prison before Obama leaves office in 2017, arguing it is a waste of taxpayer dollars and hurts the nation's image abroad.

“It is a priority of the president,” Earnest said. “It is in our clear national security interest.”

But it’s unclear whether the effort will bear fruit.

The Senate recently passed a defense spending bill that would limit Obama’s ability to transfer prisoners. Members of Congress have expressed national security concerns about transferring prisoners abroad or to U.S. soil.

Earnest on Monday reiterated the White House’s threat to veto that bill.

“The president, I think, has made crystal clear that he strongly opposes the inclusion of provisions that inhibit the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay,” he said. “If it is included in the [defense bill], the president will veto it.”

Republicans in Congress accused Obama of endangering U.S. security interests by threatening to veto the defense bill.

“The American people — and bipartisan majorities of Congress — have long opposed closing Guantánamo Bay and bringing dangerous terrorists to U.S. soil,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Given the serious threats America faces, it’s incredible to see this administration threatening to veto a bill that gives our troops a pay raise, strengthens our cybersecurity and imposes greater restrictions on releasing terrorists.”

There are reportedly internal problems within the administration slowing the closure of the base. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made little progress on newly proposed prisoner transfers, prompting concern from top administration officials, according to The New York Times.

Obama has transferred more than half of the prison’s 242 detainees, but finding new homes for the final 116 prisoners will be tough. Some cannot be transferred to other countries and others are not eligible to be brought to trial.

Earnest noted that six detainees were transferred to Oman last month. In total, 11 prisoners have been transferred abroad since the beginning of this year.

—This report was updated at 3:34 p.m.