Congressional proponents of keeping Guantanamo open say they felt they had to allow for transfers to other countries to maintain a more important priority — a ban on detainees from coming into the United States. The administration also pushed for the ability to transfer detainees to the U.S. for imprisonment, trial or medical emergencies but lost on that front, leaving Obama a thorny predicament of what to do with captives considered too dangerous to release.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who worked on the compromise as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he'll continue to fight to keep Guantanamo open even as some colleagues are softening their position. "There's no place else you can house these terrorists," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding some former detainees have re-engaged in terrorist activity.
"I look at this and I wonder why people don't want it," Inhofe said. "But the president doesn't and he's going to keep trying (to close it). And this bill stops him from doing it."
Obama renewed his commitment to closure this spring when detainees went on a hunger strike to protest indefinite confinement without charge, now going on for 12 years. Obama responded by vowing to make the case anew to Congress that the prison hurts the United States and appointing envoys at the State and Defense Departments to work toward closure.
"Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe," Obama said. "It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed."
Top administration officials, including Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and State Department envoy Clifford Sloan, made a quiet yet effective lobbying push to convince members to ease restrictions. They pointed out the annual cost of operating Guantanamo has reached more than $2 million per prisoner while other terrorism suspects are kept in U.S prisons at a small fraction of the price.