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Inside Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center

February 23, 2016 at 8:01 PM EDT
President Obama announced plans Tuesday to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, asserting that its existence undermines national security. The proposal -- which would send the facility’s remaining 91 detainees to domestic U.S. sites -- would fulfill the president’s 2008 promise to close the prison, but Congressional Republicans have been vocal in their opposition.

GWEN IFILL: From President Obama today came a fresh appeal to — quote — “close a chapter at Guantanamo.” From Republicans came an outright refusal. It all focused on a fight that’s gone at least as long as he’s been president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay doesn’t advance our national security. It undermines it.

GWEN IFILL: For the president, it may be his final chance to keep a 2008 campaign promise: shutting down the military prison at Guantanamo.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit. It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.

GWEN IFILL: At its peak in 2003, Guantanamo held 680 detainees. Today, 91 prisoners remain at the detention facility; 35 are expected to be transferred out by this summer.

The president’s new proposal would send the remaining detainees to an unspecified facility inside the United States. It speaks of 13 potential sites, including civilian prisons and military bases, but makes no recommendation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The notion of having terrorists held in the United States, rather than in some distant place, can be scary. But part of my message to the American people here is, we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists here in the United States, because we threw the book at them, and there have been no incidents. We have managed it just fine.

GWEN IFILL: Then-President George W. Bush first ordered foreign terror suspects held at Guantanamo after 9/11.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now.

GWEN IFILL: But in one of his first acts as president, Mr. Obama signed an executive order to shut it down. Today, he pointed out that, early on, the decision appeared to have bipartisan backing.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My predecessor, President Bush, to his credit, said he wanted to close it. It was one of the few things that I and my Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, agreed on.

GWEN IFILL: But McCain and others have never backed this president’s solution, and have even passed a law that would bar moving detainees to American soil.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell underscored that point today.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Majority Leader: We will review President Obama’s plan. But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.

GWEN IFILL: Presidential candidates also weighed in. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders welcomed the president’s announcement. And Hillary Clinton has said she too supports shutting the prison down.

But Republicans, including front-runner Donald Trump, roundly rejected the plan.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: This morning, I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which, by the way, which, by the way, we are keeping open, which we are keeping open.


DONALD TRUMP: And we’re going to load it up with some bad dudes, believe me. We’re going to load it up.

GWEN IFILL: The president said he is clear-eyed about the tough odds he faces getting Congress to agree with him. But the White House has not ruled out trying to close Guantanamo through executive action.

We will hear from senators on both sides of the issue after the news summary.