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Obama’s Plan to Close Gitmo Draws Fire

(CN) - Announcing his plan to close Guantanamo Bay's prisons, President Barack Obama proposed Tuesday that the United States relocate the camp's detainees to the U.S. mainland where their indefinite detention will resume.

Reciting a familiar list of reasons to "close this chapter" of history, Obama said it has been clear for many years "that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security."

The roughly 16-minute speech critiqued the Cuba-based prisons as an expensive boondoggle that harms the international relations of the United States and is "counterproductive in our fight against terrorists."

Occasionally, Obama shifted away from a pragmatic sell to strike a more idealistic tone.

"It has undermined our standing in the world," the president said. "It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the higher standards of rule of law."

While prominent human-rights groups voiced disappointment with the timidity of the plan Obama unveiled, its compromises seem to have done little to appease Republicans who quickly announced their opposition to the plan.

"The politics of this are tough," Obama acknowledged.

Though Obama issued an executive order to shut down Guantanamo's prisons on his first day in office, Republican lawmakers used roadblocks amended to annual military appropriations bills to block the process of reviewing which Guantanamo captives should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

Certain of those annual Nation Defense Appropriations Acts forbade the executive branch from moving Guantanamo captives to the U.S. mainland and restricting transfers to other countries.

Obama has working around those hurdles, however, to whittle Guantanamo's prison population down from more than 200 at the beginning of his term to 91 men now.

The Pentagon estimates that incarcerating them in Cuba costs taxpayers between $65 million and $85 million more annually than locking them up in the United States. Extrapolating from these figures, the president said that closing the prisons there will save at least $335 million within 10 years and roughly $1.7 billion in 20 years.

The four-point plan released today aims to speed up the release of the 35 men approved for transfer.

So-called "periodic review boards" will continue the process for as many as 33 of the men waiting for a hearing.

As pretrial hearings have dragged on for roughly four years, Obama blasted the military-commissions system in his speech for failing to prosecute a single person in connection with Sept. 11.

Obama defended the federal court system, but the White House's plan calls for the military commissions to continue with a new tranche of reforms. It also allows foreign prosecutors to take up some of cases involving current Guantanamo detainees.

Most controversially, the plan calls for working with Congress to find a U.S. prison to hold captives who are not being prosecuted or released.

Potential sites for this "Guantanamo North," as some have called it, include military prisons in Charleston, S.C., and Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., and the federal supermax in Florence, Colo., The New York Times reported.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil-liberties group representing several detainees, said bluntly in a statement that Obama's proposal "merely relocates [Guantanamo] to a new ZIP code"

"The infamy of Guantanamo has never been just its location, but rather its immoral and illegal regime of indefinite detention," the group said. "Closing Guantanamo in any meaningful sense means putting an end to that practice."

Naureen Shah, who directs Amnesty International's USA's Security and Human Rights Program, called this facet of the plan "reckless and ill-advised."

"It won't appease members of Congress who appear bent on making Guantanamo a permanent offshore prison for individuals captured in a global, apparently endless war," she said. "And it won't end indefinite detention - it will shift it to the U.S. mainland."

Shah's prediction as to the political ramifications already has proven prescient, with Republican candidate Marco Rubio voicing disapproval of the plan within moments of its announcement.

"President Obama's dangerous and disastrous national security policy continues with the release of his so-called 'plan' to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," the junior senator from Florida said in a statement. "After seven years, President Obama has still not explained to the American people in sufficient detail where, under what authorities, and at what cost he will detain some of the world's most dangerous terrorists.

Despite Rubio's rhetoric, only 10 of the men remaining at Guantanamo currently face prosecution, and its chief prosecutor Gen. Mark Martins estimated that just more than 20 people can be charged with any war crime.

Rubio added that Obama's "latest effort is a continuation of prioritizing his own legacy over the safety of the American people."

Rep. James Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, declined to take a position on Guantanamo announcement during a conference call with reporters this morning that mainly focused on the upcoming Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina.

"I will wait to see what the president does," Clyburn said. "If he imposes something that has an impact on South Carolina, I will have something to say about it, but I don't want to get ahead of the president on this."

Obama noted that Guantanamo once had a bipartisan consensus that included Republicans like his predecessor George W. Bush and former opponent, Sen. John McCain.

"Even in an election year, we should be able to have an open, honest, good-faith dialogue about how to best ensure our national security," the president said, before noting he personally has no more campaigns to run.

"Let us do what is right for America," he said. "Let us go ahead and close this chapter."

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