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article imageOp-Ed: Obama may use executive power to help close Guantanamo

By Ken Hanly     Oct 10, 2014 in World
Washington - Obama is to be presented with options that will allow him to finally close Guantanamo according to senior Obama administration officials. The options include using his executive power to override a Congressional ban on sending detainees to the US.
This dramatic use of executive power would bring down the wrath of many legislators on the president. These reports are no doubt meant to show that Obama still intends to carry out his promise during his campaign for president that he would close the facility.
However, the government has authorized tens of millions in expenditures on the prison. There are still 149 prisoners in the facility. 79 have already been cleared for transfer but few have actually been transferred even though Congress eased restrictions on some transfers last December. Six detainees were to go to Uruguay but this will not happen unless the present president wins the October 26th presidential elections since his main opponent opposes the transfer. Estonia has agreed to accept one detainee.
A majority of those cleared for release are from Yemen and the Yemenis have often held protests demanding their release as shown by this demonstration back in April 2013. In spite of the protests that have the support of President Hadi a staunch Obama ally, there have been no recent transfers to Yemen. With the security situation as it is now, there are not likely to be any more transfers soon.
The US Congress could very well extend the restrictions after the mid-term elections. Obama would be forced to veto the National Defense Authorization Act that contains the legislation with the ban or he could allow the bill to pass but add the restriction that the ban on transfers infringed on his executive powers. By doing so, Obama would signal that he would not comply with the ban. Many in Congress are already upset by Obama's decision last May to exchange 5 Taliban Guantanamo detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl held by the Taliban. Congress was not even given the 30 day notice required. One government agency insisted the action was illegal: Susan Poling, general counsel for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, wrote in a letter to nine Republican senators that the Pentagon should have notified "the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer."
Since that transfer last May there have been no further transfers. This hardly suggests that Obama is in any rush to close the prison. Although Obama removed the moratorium on repatriating any prisoners to Yemen and also named envoys at both the State and Defense Departments to aid in transferring detainees to other countries, virtually nothing has happened in the last six months.
A poll last June showed less than 30 percent support for closing Guantanamo if that involved transferring detainees to US prisons while 66 percent were opposed. 37 prisoners have been classified as too dangerous to release but cannot be tried because the government lacks usable evidence against them. Whether Guantanamo closes or not surely it is a travesty of justice to keep suspects indefinitely without any chance of trial. The idea of being innocent until found guilty seems to be entirely lacking. There are also 23 who have been referred for trial by military commissions.
The annual cost to keep a prisoner at Guantanamo is $2.7 million per inmate as compared to $78,000 in a super prison on the US mainland but this huge differential in cost appears not to register with the US public. Representative Adam Schiff a California Democrat has argued that the prison is not only very expensive, and a black mark around the world against the US but entirely unnecessary since the detainees could be safely imprisoned in the US. Nevertheless just six months ago the US House voted 247 to 177 against removing the ban on transfers to the US. The fear of terrorism trumps any consideration of costs even though the chances of prisoners escaping from US jails are probably minimal. If Obama does use his executive power to transfer detainees to US jails one can expect a sharp reaction from many in Congress particularly from many Republicans who already have complained about Obama's use of his executive powers to bypass Congress.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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