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Closing Gitmo will be 'very difficult,' Hagel says

Closing Gitmo will be 'very difficult,' Hagel says
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It will be "very difficult" for President Obama to fulfill his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison before leaving office, according to outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack Trump Afghan pullout deal unachievable, says ex-Pentagon leader MORE.

"It's going to be very difficult, especially if the Congress further restricts where these last 122 detainees go," he said in an NPR interview aired Monday. 

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Hagel, as defense secretary, is personally responsible for signing off on the transfers of detainees from the detention facility in Cuba. He has signed off on 44 during his tenure, but the pace of approvals reportedly frustrated the White House.

Hagel would not confirm that the White House pressured him to move faster, adding, "Not all people agreed with me." 

"I didn't sign off on any Guantanamo detainees that I did not certify that we substantially mitigated the risk of them returning to the battlefield," he said.

"Now, has there been a slowing of that, which hasn't always made me popular in all quarters, yes, but I made that very clear to the president and to everyone, to the Congress," he added. 

President Obama made closing Guantanamo a campaign promise in 2008, but has repeatedly clashed with Congress over the issue. With only two years left in office, the chances of him meeting that pledge appear to be dwindling.

Hagel noted that countries have to be willing to take the detainees and capable of ensuring they won't return to the battlefield in order for them to be transferred.

"This isn't a simple, easy matter of let's just move 122 detainees," he said. "These people are there for a reason, and as you draw down into the last numbers there, these are the most difficult cases." 

Hagel declined to comment on reports that he resigned in November in part due to tensions with the White House. Former Defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta both wrote memoirs with scathing accounts of White House micromanagement of the Pentagon. 

"I don't think there's any perfection in the process," Hagel said of the White House's relationship with the Pentagon. 

"I've expressed myself in many ways, but I don't get into the book-telling business of conversations I have with the president, that's not my style, I don't think that's a responsible thing to do," he said.