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Gitmo Closure Stalled at Pentagon      09/30 06:13

   The transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay has ground to a halt amid a 
slow Pentagon approval process, causing deep frustration within the 
administration and raising doubts that President Barack Obama will be able to 
fulfill his campaign promise to close the offshore prison for terrorism 
suspects.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay has 
ground to a halt amid a slow Pentagon approval process, causing deep 
frustration within the administration and raising doubts that President Barack 
Obama will be able to fulfill his campaign promise to close the offshore prison 
for terrorism suspects.

   A detainee sent back to his native Algeria in March is the only prisoner to 
have moved out this year, beyond the controversial exchange of five Taliban 
members in return for long-held captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

   The slow pace is the result of the law that gives Defense Secretary Chuck 
Hagel --- not the commander in chief --- the final authority to transfer any of 
the 149 terror suspects being held at Guantanamo. Pentagon officials say they 
must carefully consider the risks before signing off, given that others have 
returned to terrorism.

   The White House has reminded the Pentagon that recidivism risks must be 
weighed against the danger to the United States in keeping the Cuban prison 
open. Obama has said Guantanamo's continued operation hurts U.S. standing 
overseas and is a recruitment tool for terrorists.

   "The president would absolutely like to see more progress in our efforts to 
close Guantanamo," Obama counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said. "He wants 
it closed. He's pushing his own team very hard, raising it weekly with me, with 
Secretary Hagel, with Secretary (of State John) Kerry. He also wants Congress 
to act to remove the restrictions in place that are making it even harder to 
move forward."

   For years, Congress used its budget power to block Obama from making 
transfers. The president announced in May 2013 that he was appointing special 
envoys for Guantanamo closure at the State and Defense departments to move 
prisoners out "to the greatest extent possible." Congress responded by lifting 
some of the complicated restrictions for transfers, allowing them when Hagel 
determines steps have been taken to reduce the risk that detainees will 
re-engage in the fight.

   "My name goes on that document, that's a big responsibility," Hagel said 
earlier this year. "I'm taking my time. I owe that to the American people, I 
owe that to the president."

   Hagel was responding to a question about the months that had passed since 
Uruguay offered to take six detainees. Hagel eventually signed off, after a 
call from White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, according to 
administration officials. Meanwhile, controversy grew over the deal in Uruguay 
and officials there say it is now unlikely to proceed before their fall 
election.

   Ian Moss, who works in the office of State Department envoy Clifford Sloan, 
said Uruguay and the U.S. are "absolutely committed" to making the transfer, 
but he can't say when. "We are actively engaging a wide variety of governments 
and working diligently to transfer each of 79 detainees currently approved for 
transfer," Moss said.

   Administration officials say the State Department has reached or is 
finalizing agreements with foreign governments to accept about two dozen 
detainees. An administration official said 11 of those deals have been awaiting 
Hagel's signature, some for many months.

   "Many countries are willing to help, but willingness is not everything," 
said Paul Lewis, the Pentagon's envoy for Guantanamo closure. He said Hagel is 
"absolutely committed to close Guantanamo," but under the law Pentagon 
officials have to closely examine security in the receiving country, including 
whether detainees who have been previously released have returned to the fight 
or could move over a porous border. "We're being careful and deliberative."

   Administration officials described a viewpoint among some who work on 
detainee policy in the military that Guantanamo should remain open indefinitely 
rather than risk that a detainee will return to terrorism. Some detainees have 
been released and then recaptured, including June's arrest in Spain of a former 
prisoner accused of recruiting militants for the Islamic State group.

   Administration officials say Obama national security adviser Susan Rice 
wrote to Hagel in May, laying out Obama's view that there's never zero risk in 
transferring a detainee but that assessment must be balanced against the risk 
of keeping the prison open.

   "The president's expectation is that all detainees who have been determined 
to be eligible for transfer or release ... will be repatriated or resettled 
from Guantanamo Bay as quickly as possible, consistent with U.S. national 
security interests," Rice's letter said, according to parts read to The 
Associated Press.

   Transferring out approved detainees is only the first step to shuttering the 
prison established in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 
more complicated question looms over how to handle the most dangerous 
prisoners. Congress has prohibited Obama from bringing them to the United 
States for detention or trial, leaving them nowhere to be held other than 
Guantanamo.


(KA)


 
 
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