The Obama administration will not purse the use of an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, according to a report published on Monday.
Officials concluded that it wouldn’t be a feasible strategy, sources close to the talks told the Reuters news agency. It means that President Barack Obama won’t be able to fulfill his mandate from way back in 2007 to close down the prison before he leaves office in January 2017. Obama in his first week in office in 2009 signed an executive order to shut down the prison, but it has remained open.
About seven years later, sources close to the deliberations say the president isn’t actively pursuing the use of his commander-in-chief powers.
Guantanamo Bay has been used to hold terror suspects since it was started in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
There have been efforts to release as many prisoners as possible from the prison, while officials have considered a variety of legal strategies, including sending detainees to other countries for prosecution or striking plea deals via video-conference calls. However, opposition in Congress and questions over the legality of the plea deals put a damper on those options.
“The clock has struck midnight and the American people have won,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) last week. “The president needs to admit that.”
In late June, lawmakers are set to extend a ban on moving detainees to U.S. maximum security prisons, meaning that Obama would have no way to achieve the January deadline in time.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that of the 80 remaining detainees on Guantanamo, 30 have been cleared for overseas transfer, and most will leave, starting in late June and July. At one time, the prison held as many as 800 prisoners—becoming a flashpoint in debates on the “war on terror.”
“It was just deemed too difficult to get through all of the hurdles that they would need to get through, and the level of support they were likely to receive on it was thought to be too low to generate such controversy, particularly at a sensitive (time) in an election cycle,” a source told Reuters on Monday.
Last year, Obama responded to a question about not closing Guantanamo. “I think I would have closed Guantanamo on the first day,” Obama said at the conference, as cited by The Guardian. “I didn’t at that time because we had a bipartisan agreement that it should be closed.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) last week introduced an amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—a bill that has been used to stifle Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo—that would require the secretary of Defense, along with with the secretary of state, to give Congress an unclassified notice of plans to transfer detainees held at the military detention facility.
“Information regarding these transfers should be public, not hidden by unnecessary classification. The detainees remaining in the Guantanamo Bay facility are the worst of the worst, and the threat they pose must be addressed seriously and transparently,” he said, according to the Washington Free Beacon.