US President Barack Obama has proposed to “once and for all” close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and transfer remaining detainees to a facility in the US – though his plan did not specify where.
Obama, whose pledge to shut down the prison on a naval base in Cuba dates back to the start of his presidency, is seeking to make good on his promise before he leaves office next January.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Obama said the defense department had submitted to Congress a plan to shut down the military prison, which currently holds 91 detainees.
“Let us do what is right for America, let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Obama said.
“I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years? 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, however, was immediately rejected by politicians opposed to rehousing prisoners in the United States.
US officials have previously said the plan would include sending 35 detainees who are cleared for transfer to either their home country or to a third country.
The remaining prisoners would be brought back to US soil and held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the US mainland since 2011.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said leading Republicans had already criticised the plan as being “dead on arrival” because it does not specify where the administration thinks that these detainees should be transferred if they are allowed to come to US soil.
“There are about 13 potential facilities that have been identified but they are not even mentioned in the plan that has just been made public, and so there’s a lot of criticism already that what the president is doing is nothing more than political grandstanding,” Jordan said.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “We’ll review President Obama’s plan.
“But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in US communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”
The administration wants to avoid fuelling any political outcry over specific sites during a US presidential election year.
However, Pentagon officials have already surveyed a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, a military jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
An effort will also be made to speed up parole-style reviews to determine whether more prisoners can be added to the group cleared for release, officials said.
The plan will include costs for upgrading US facilities and housing the inmates there, according to a source familiar with the matter. The White House last year rejected one Pentagon proposal as being too expensive, sending it back for revisions.