“Given my Administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” said US President Barack Obama during his speech at the Defence Academy on 23 May.
Obama called on the Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from the Guantanamo detention facility, stressing that during his mandate 67 detainees have been transferred to other countries.
Over the years, the legislative body imposed restrictions on detainee transfers which, according to Obama, “effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States.”
“These restrictions make no sense,” continued the US president, recapping that some 530 detainees were transferred from Guantanamo with Congress’s support during President Bush’s mandate.
According to Obama, Guantanamo has become a symbol around the world for “an America that flouts the rule of law”. He sees the existence of the facility as an impediment to US’s cooperation with allies, as well as economically unwise. “During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –almost $1 million per prisoner,” explained the president.
Obama said that he will soon appoint a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defence Department whose sole responsibility will be to “achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries.”
“I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis,” announced the US president, adding that efforts will focus on the transfer of detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.
Critics in the States say that in his speech on 23 May Obama has offered little insight on closing Guantanamo. Others say that his words indeed reaffirmed his commitment to closing the detention facility and thus brought him closer to fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The global human rights movement Amnesty International released a statement as a response to Obama’s speech at the Defence Academy. It welcomed his words on closing Guantanamo, but said that “it's time for him to take immediate and further action and get the job done.”