- President says keeping prison open is huge burden on taxpayers
- Says center’s existence ‘clouds’ counter-terrorism efforts
U.S. President Barack Obama said he remained hopeful of being able to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office in January.
“I am not ready to concede that it may still remain open because we’re still working diligently to continue to shrink the population,” Obama said Thursday at a briefing following a summit with Southeast Asian leaders in Vientiane, Laos. “It’s not necessary and it’s hugely expensive for taxpayers.”
While the president vowed before he took office to close the prison he’s been stymied by members of Congress who have placed restrictions in defense spending bills on the government’s ability to close the facility.
Obama acknowledged there was “absolutely” strong opposition from Congress. Still, he added “I expect to work really hard over the next four months -- five months -- four and a half months.”
The prison currently holds 61 terrorism suspects after the Pentagon announced last month it was transferring 15 detainees to the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. is seeking partners to accept 20 more detainees who have already been approved for transfer.
The draw down at the prison has spiked the cost per inmate, which an analysis of Pentagon documents now pegs at more than $6 million per year. The administration has repeatedly pointed to the cost to argue it should be allowed to transfer the detainees to maximum security prisons in the U.S.
The president has also warned the facility is used as a propaganda tool by terrorist organizations and enemy states.
“It clouds and sours some of the counter-terrorism operations we need to engage in,” he said.
Late last month, Vice President Joe Biden said it was his “hope and expectation” that Obama would be able to close the prison before departing the White House.