By Yeganeh Torbati and Matt Spetalnick
The Pentagon is expected to submit to Congress on Tuesday President Barack Obama’s long-awaited plan for closing the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, setting up a battle with lawmakers who oppose his efforts.
Obama, whose pledge to shut the facility at the US naval base in Cuba dates back to the start of his presidency in 2009, is seeking to make good on his promise before he leaves office next January.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the administration intended to meet Tuesday’s deadline to present its detailed proposal for closing the facility. There are still 91 prisoners detained there.
“We understand the deadline is tomorrow and it’s our intent to meet it,” Davis told reporters.
US officials have said the plan would call for sending to their homelands or third countries detainees who have been cleared for transfer, now numbering 35, and bringing remaining prisoners, possibly several dozen, to US soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the United States since 2011.
Another option that will be cited in the administration’s blueprint will be the possibility of sending some prisoners overseas for prosecution and trial, one US official said.
The closure plan could also serve as a template for how to deal with future terrorism suspects captured in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
However, the document will not name the alternative US prisons under consideration for housing detainees, US officials said. The administration wants to avoid fuelling any political outcry over specific sites during a US presidential election year.
Still, Pentagon officials have already surveyed a federal prison in Florence, Colorado, a military jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Navy brig at Charleston, South Carolina.
An effort will also be made to speed up parole-style reviews to determine whether more prisoners can be added to the group cleared for release, officials said.
The plan will include costs for upgrading US facilities and housing the inmates there, according to a source familiar with the matter. The White House last year rejected one Pentagon proposal as too expensive, sending it back for revisions.
Republicans and some Democrats in Congress largely oppose proposals to move any of the prisoners to the United States.
Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte said on Monday the Obama administration refused to “level with the American people regarding the terrorist activities and affiliations of the detainees who remain at Guantanamo.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated Obama’s view of Guantanamo as a terrorist “recruiting tool” and urged lawmakers to look at the plan “with an open mind,” although he expressed doubt about whether they would do so.
The White House has left open the possibility that Obama might resort to executive powers to close the facility.
The prison was opened in 2002 by former Republican President George W. Bush to house foreign terrorism suspects rounded up after the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The United States quickly drew criticism from human rights activists and foreign governments over Guantanamo, where most prisoners have been held for more than a decade without trial.