White House submits plan to close Gitmo to Congress
President Obama on Tuesday submitted his long-awaited plan for closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center to meet a congressional deadline.
The plan, which would cost up to $475 million, proposes moving anywhere between 30 to 60 of the remaining detainees from the facility in Cuba to the U.S. Although the plan does not specify a location for a new facility in which to house them, senior administration officials said Tuesday that 13 options have been proposed.
Officials said that moving Guantánamo detainees to the United States would ultimately save between $65 million and $85 million a year after three to five years.
The cost savings to U.S. taxpayers are a key part of the administration’s argument that the military detention facility needs to be shut down.
Officials noted, however, that cost estimates are “somewhat rough and notional.”
“Congress has prevented us from doing precise design and planning work on a facility in the continental United States, that prevented us from coming up with the fidelity needed for either a budget estimate to ask Congress for the authority, or even precise estimates of what the sites would cost,” a senior administration official said.
“So we did a lot of work within the constraints of the current law, but not the kind of precise estimates that we would ultimately need and expect to have in asking Congress for the funds to do this,” the official said.
“We want to engage with Congress on a conversation on how to do this; the plan does not endorse a specific facility in the United States at this time, rather as I suggested, it describes essentially a prototype for a detention facility in the United States,” the official added.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) quickly rejected Obama’s plan.
“What the President submitted today is more press release than a plan. It is no substitute for the legally-required detainee plan the President must submit to Congress. That plan is now overdue,” he said in a statement.
Specifically, Thornberry pointed to missing information on a proposed location for a new detention facility.
“I have pledged to give the President’s plan a fair hearing, but he makes it impossible to do so when he withholds critical details,” he said.
The administration officials said on Tuesday that the plan has four main elements to close down the facility, which currently houses 91 detainees.
First, the administration would continue to transfer an estimated 35 detainees who have been deemed eligible for transfer to other countries, the official said.
“We are optimistic that all the 35 will be transferred in the next several months,” the official added.
Another 46 detainees would continue to face review boards to determine their eligibility based on the threat they pose, officials said.
The administration also would continue to seek to prosecute detainees who can be prosecuted, either in Article III court, military commission, or foreign prosecutions, the officials said. There are currently 10 detainees in some phase of the military commission process, the officials said.
Finally, the administration would work with Congress to find a location within the U.S. to securely hold detainees who cannot be transferred to other countries, officials said.
“Guantánamo is a … negative symbol for our national security. The president said this, the prior president said this, many of our generals have told us this, it hurts us with our allies, it inspires jihadists, and it’s time to bring this chapter of American history to a close,” the official said.
—This report was updated at 10:58 a.m.
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