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Obama's Plan To Close Guantanamo Bay Prison Meets Opposition In Congress


President Obama has been saying for years that the United States pays a high price for its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now for the first time, the administration is putting a price tag on possible alternatives. It's part of a plan the president's team is sending to Congress to close Guantanamo and transfer dozens of people held there to the U.S. As we'll hear, the plan is already facing major resistance on Capitol Hill. NPR's Scott Horsley begins our coverage.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama announced his plan to close Guantanamo while standing beneath a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, a man who knows something about uphill battles involving Cuba. Obama acknowledged many Americans won't like the idea of moving hardened terrorists, including 9/11 plotters, from the prison onto U.S. soil, but he's determined to keep trying.


BARACK OBAMA: I don't want to pass this problem on to the next president, whoever it is. And if, as a nation, we don't deal with this now, when will we deal with it?

HORSLEY: Obama's been trying to cross this item off his to-do list since his second day in office when the novice president signed an executive order directing the prison to be closed within 12 months. As you can hear, he and his aides haven't yet figured out what to do with the men who were housed there.


OBAMA: Is there a separate executive order, Greg, with respect to how we're going to dispose of the detainees. Is that ready?

GREG CRAIG: We'll set up a process.

OBAMA: We will be setting up a process whereby this is going to be taking place.

HORSLEY: Seven years later, Guantanamo remains open. Obama says it's a persistent source of friction with U.S. allies and a recruiting poster for enemies like ISIS whose gruesome videos often contain references to the prison's notorious orange jumpsuits. The U.S. spends more than $400 million a year operating the prison which today houses just 91 inmates. The administration's plan calls for transferring about a third of those inmates to other countries while bringing the rest into the United States. For years, though, Congress has blocking them from moving inmates onto American soil. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned today, that's not likely to change.


MITCH MCCONNELL: We'll 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.

HORSLEY: The White House insists it wants to work with Congress, but it hasn't ruled out going around lawmakers. The president's former legal adviser, Greg Craig, argues Obama has that authority as commander-in-chief since the inmates at Guantanamo are military prisoners.

CRAIG: Under ordinary circumstances, no one would raise any issue at all about the leader of the Army and the Navy making a decision about where detainees should be held. And everybody would recognize that that is right smack dab in the middle of the core authority of the commander-in-chief.

HORSLEY: Pentagon inspectors looked at 13 possible sites in the U.S. where Guantanamo prisoners could be housed. While some of the inmates are expected to stand trial, others cannot be prosecuted. Obama's plan calls for keeping those inmates locked up without trial. Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch complains that's not an acceptable answer.

LAURA PITTER: The problem with Guantanamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial. And that's a problem no matter where it occurs, whether it's in Guantanamo or in the United States.

HORSLEY: It's a problem that could be with us for decades to come. Obama's plan forecasts the cost of housing inmates in the U.S. for another 20 years. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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