White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced the move during a Friday press conference after she was asked about the controversial prison camp – which now houses 40 detainees, most of whom languish behind bars indefinitely without charges.
“That certainly is the goal, and our intention,” Psaki said of closing the prison, offering no specific timeframe. She added that in order to carry out the review “completely and thoroughly,” several “key” positions still needed to be filled across the Pentagon, State Department and Department of Justice.
By 2011, however, the initiative had stalled, with DOJ litigators, the Pentagon and lawmakers each stonewalling efforts to complete legal proceedings for prisoners and transfer them out of Guantanamo. A National Defense Authorization bill put forward by Congress the same year, and signed by Obama, began placing restrictions on prisoner transfers, effectively stopping the move in its tracks.
While scores of detainees were transferred or released in the meantime, four years later the prison was still open, with Obama telling an audience in 2015 that he wished he would have “closed Guantanamo on the first day,” but the “politics of it got tough,” explaining that “instead, we’ve had to just chip away at it year after year after year.”
Even in the waning days of his administration, Obama continued to state he was “absolutely committed” to closing the prison. While flanked by then-vice president Biden at the White House in February 2016, Obama again slammed the facility as a “stain on our broader record,” unveiling a new four-step plan to “accelerate” the process to close the facility. He left office some 10 months later with 41 prisoners still in Guantanamo, handing off the issue to the incoming Trump team.
Now, some 12 years removed from his predecessor’s initial vows to bring an end to the detention camp – plagued by years of allegations of torture and, in same cases, murder – Biden has made the same pledge. It remains to be seen just how committed he is to the move, however.
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