WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed to “once and for all” close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer remaining detainees to a facility in the U.S., though his plan does not specify where.
Obama said that despite significant political hurdles and congressional opposition he is making one last effort to shutter the facility.
“I don’t want to pass this problem on the next president, whoever it is. Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years?” he said, in an appearance at the White House. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values. It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”
Obama’s proposal ducks the thorny question of where the new facility would be located and whether Obama could complete the closure before he leaves office.
The plan, which was requested by Congress, makes a financial argument for closing the controversial detention center. U.S. officials say it calls for up to $475 million in construction costs that would ultimately be offset by as much as $180 million per year in operating cost savings.
The proposal is part of Obama’s last effort to make good on his unfulfilled 2008 campaign vow to close Guantanamo and persuade lawmakers to allow the Defense Department to move nearly 60 detainees to the U.S. But with few specifics, the proposal may only further antagonize lawmakers who have repeatedly passed legislation banning any effort to move detainees to the U.S.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of House Armed Services Committee, has said his panel would hold a hearing on a closure plan. But he sent a letter to Obama warning that Congress has made clear what details must be included in any plan and that anything less than that would be unacceptable.
Obama, meanwhile, planned to make a midmorning statement on Guantanamo at the White House.
U.S. officials say the plan considers, but does not name, 13 different locations in the U.S., including seven existing prison facilities in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, as well as six other locations on current military bases. They say the plan doesn’t recommend a preferred site and the cost estimates are meant to provide a starting point for a conversation with Congress.
BREAKING: Watch President Obama announce his plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay → go.wh.gov/8sxXiM
Posted by The White House on Tuesday, February 23, 2016
The seven facilities reviewed by a Pentagon assessment team last year were: the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks and Midwest Joint Regional Corrections Facility at Leavenworth, Kansas; the Consolidated Naval Brig, Charleston, South Carolina; the Federal Correctional Complex, which includes the medium, maximum and supermax facilities in Florence, Colorado; and the Colorado State Penitentiary II in Canon City, Colorado, also known as the Centennial Correctional Facility.
According to the officials, the U.S. facilities would cost between $265 million and $305 million to operate each year. The annual operating cost for Guantanamo is $445 million, but the officials said the Cuba detention center will need about $225 million in repairs and construction costs if it continues to be used.
They said it will cost between $290 million and $475 million for construction at the various U.S. sites, depending on the location. Some of the more expensive sites are on the military bases, which would need more construction. Because of the annual operating savings, the officials said the U.S. would make up the initial construction costs in three to five years.